EVERETT — The last time the Everett AquaSox graced Everett Memorial Stadium, catcher Troy Dixon sent the fans home happy with an afternoon walk-off home run as the Frogs topped the Vancouver Canadians 3-2.
Dixon’s dramatic home run was the lasting impression of Everett’s last homestand, and it somewhat overshadowed the fact the AquaSox had walked off the Canadians 6-5 in 10 innings less than 18 hours earlier.
The hero that night was infielder Nick Rodriguez, who laced a single into the gap in left-center to score Cal Raleigh with the game-winning run.
Nick Rodriguez walks it off as AquaSox win 6-5 in 10 innings. pic.twitter.com/WIgrFVyqRn
— Jesse Geleynse (@JesseGeleynse) July 26, 2018
“Everybody loves a walk-off (win),” Rodriguez said. “It’s great energy. Having walk-offs kind of takes it into the next game and you already kind of have momentum going into the next game.”
Rodriguez has continued to swing a hot bat. Heading into Tuesday’s fifth and final game at Salem-Keizer, Rodriguez was 8-for-16 with four runs in four games against the Volcanoes. The AquaSox return to Everett Memorial Stadium on Wednesday for a five-game homestand against the Boise Hawks beginning at 7:05 p.m.
After a slow start to the season saw his average bottom out at .111, Rodriguez is now second on the team with a .290 average and is slashing .290/.327/.450.
“He’s receiving the opportunity to play and right now he’s taking advantage of that,” Everett manager Jose Moreno said.
Part of Rodriguez’s chance to play every day is due to circumstance. Moreno has not been shy about rotating his bevy of infielders around to all four positions, and Rodriguez has seen substantial action at first, second and third base. He played mostly first base on the last homestand after everyday first baseman Ryan Garcia suffered a hamstring injury. Garcia has since returned, but Rodriguez has continued to force his way into the lineup with his production.
“When I first got drafted they made it apparent that they might be moving us around so I was actually pretty excited,” Rodriguez said. “I think that’s a good thing to have — experience all over the infield.”
Rodriguez was something of a super-utility infielder during his four-year career at UNLV. He started at shortstop as a freshman and sophomore, moved to third base as a junior and concluded his stint this season as the Runnin’ Rebels’ second baseman.
This summer Rodriguez has made 10 starts at second, seven starts at third and six starts at first for the AquaSox.
The bigger change for Rodriguez was his transition from opposite-field slap hitter to power-hitting pull hitter. In his first three seasons at UNLV Rodriguez combined for three home runs, 26 extra-base hits and 61 RBI in 136 games.
“I was your textbook ‘try to be a contact hitter’ who hit the ball the other way and tried to spray the gaps,” Rodriguez said. “And then my senior year I kind of realized I had a little more power than I thought I did, and rather than try to guide the ball I just told myself ‘I’m going to hit the ball as hard as I possibly can and get my pitch.’”
The results were awe-inspiring. In 58 games as a senior Rodriguez hit 10 home runs with 29 extra-base hits and 56 RBI as he slashed .337/.376/.542. He also struck out 53 times, nearly twice the 28 he had as a junior, but that tends to happen when a player looks to pull the ball.
“I think that was a huge adjustment for me because a lot of the time the first three years I was very late, I was chasing stuff in the dirt, and I think by swinging harder and swinging with more intent allowed me to get better pitches, and even allowed me to hit off-speed pitches a little bit better,” Rodriguez said. “It was a major improvement and I think it took me a little while to adjust here, too, but I’m kind of figuring out what kind of hitter I want to be at the pro level.”
At 6-foot-2 and listed at just 170 pounds, Rodriguez has plenty of room to add weight — something he will likely need to do if he is going to be a consistent power hitter at the professional level away from the hitter-friendly, high-altitude stadiums of the Mountain West Conference.
“We know that he has some power,” Moreno said. “We saw him at extended spring after the draft at the beginning of the season. (It’s) just a matter of timing.”
Rodriguez was one of six UNLV players taken in the draft and one of seven to sign a contract as the Mariners selected him in the 22nd round. He wasted no time in showing his power as he homered in his third professional game. He is tied for the team high with four homers in 31 games entering Tuesday as he has continued to adjust to the improved pitching after a slow start.
“In college every once in a while you saw a guy throwing in the mid-90s and you’re kind of like, ‘Wow this guy is throwing cheese,’” Rodriguez said. “But now that’s become a normal thing, and I think it’s just like my transition was from high school to college where you just needed to see it a little bit more. Now those speeds don’t seem too ridiculous to me anymore and I think I’m adjusting to it.”
Notes: AquaSox pitchers Jheyson Caraballo and Michael Plassmeyer, infielder Connor Kopach and outfielder Josh Stowers were each named to the NWL All-Star team, the league announced Tuesday… Former AquaSox shortstop Bryson Brigman, who was with advanced A Modesto, was traded to Miami Tuesday when the Mariners acquired outfielder Cameron Maybin from the Marlins at the Major League Baseball trade deadline.
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