A noontime conference call with Francisco Rodriguez just ended a few minutes ago. As you’d imagine, K-Rod has embraced the many complexities of his new baseball home.
The former Angels closer said he is not worried about his velocity. In fact, he expects it to increase next season. He believes it dipped last season because he refined his mechanics and worked on a new pitch, his changeup, and that to keep himself in check he couldn’t let loose.
There were many good nuggets from the call. K-Rod seems like an intelligent, thoughtful guy who wants to prove himself in New York.
UPDATE, 1:47 p.m.: The whole transcript is up. It’s long, so you can find it in its entirety after the jump…
Can you address the concerns that your velocity dipped last season?
For me it’s not a concern. I think I’m going to be fine this year. For some reason people are always looking at velocity and not worrying about what I have done. I feel pretty comfortable with it. I’m working so hard this offseason to make sure I come back to spring training and prove my velocity is back. It’s not something that I’m really concerned about right now. I think I’ll be all right.
One of the things Omar said was that you’d be worried about who would get the ball. What do you think about J.J. Putz?
First of all, I’m really happy with the acquisition of J.J. He’s a tremendous guy and a tremendous professional. Hopefully, we can work together and get our chemistry going. From what I understand right now, he’s going to be the setup guy. He’s the one who’s going to get the ball to me. I think that 1-2 punch I really like our odds. When we get back to spring training we have to sit together and establish our communication and work together. We’re not selfish guys. We don’t look at numbers. We have one goal: To get to the promised land.
You were the first reliever that Omar picked up in the offseason. Then within the last few days gone ahead and traded for three guys and gotten rid of three guys from last season. What’s sense to where the bullpen is now compared to last year and what your confidence level is in the group who will get you the ball?
I like our arms. Omar, with the moves he has made, all the trades he has made to the bullpen to make it a lot stronger. I think we have a great group of guys who can get the job done. There’s not a question in my mind that this year’s going to be different. We’re going to put zeros on the board and we’re going to get people out and go where we need to go. One thing, the first thing, is we’re going to have to stay healthy and work hard. The rest of it will take care of itself.
A lot of guys are reluctant to come to New York. You seem excited to do so.
I’m excited. It has something different than other cities have. No disrespect to other fans or other cities, but in New York the atmosphere is totally different. The fans are really passionate. That’s something special New York has. A lot of players don’t like to be on that stage. I’m the kind of guy who likes to be involved in the pressure. I’m the kind of guy who likes to be in those situations. I think the city is perfect for me. I know I have a big commitment with the city of New York, the fans and the coaching staff. I want to earn respect from the fans and make sure I enjoy my stay there.
With all the changes this offseason, do you feel like there’s a responsibility to change the atmosphere?
That’s a really difficult question because I cannot speak for guys who were there last year. Everybody knows what happens. Unfortunately they didn’t get the job done. Unfortunately, it happened. This year, you know, when you come to spring training, you have one goal. Make the playoffs, get to the second round and get to the championship. That’s the goal we’re going to have to reach. We can’t be living in the past. We have to leave that behind us and focus and start working from now to spring training. We have to make sure we’re healthy and get the job done next year.
There was some talk originally about getting a deal of four or five years. Any disappointment that you weren’t able to get a longer contract?
No, no, not at all. I think I’m happy where I’m at right now. I’m comfortable. That never came out of my mouth. And I believe it never came out of the mouth of my agent. I think I’m comfortable and happy with what I have right now. I’m really happy with the city of New York. I’m really happy with where I’m at. There’s no question about it.
How about the adjustment to the National League?
This game is about making transitions and making adjustments. Of course, I don’t know the hitters and they don’t know me a lot. It goes 50-50.
You had mentioned that you think your velocity can bounce back next season. Was there anything in your arm last year that you think contributed to your velocity dipping from where it had been in the past?
No, listen, last year was totally different. I was making some changes early in the year in spring training with my mechanics. The other thing I was putting a third pitch into my pitches with my changeup. When I was trying to let it fly, when I was trying throw hard, my mechanics were totally different than when I tried to throw the changeup. So what I figured was to have the same motion, the same everything, so my changeup can be more effective. When I let it fly last year, the velocity was there, no question. I had to lose a little bit of arm speed because I wanted to throw the new pitch with the same arm speed. To me, you guys are going to see it next year. You guys are going to see it in spring training and going forward the rest of the season. There were some changes I had to make early in the year last year and that’s why I feel like (my velocity) went down two or three miles from where it was.
How much did you feel this was a good fit with the Mets? And they also said you were involved in the negotiations. Did you think all along it was going to happen?
Everything was positive. Everything was fine. It was a totally different experience. I had the chance to be in there. You have to understand this is a business. That’s the way it is. I never had any doubt in my mind.
Where the Mets the team you had your eye on the whole time?
I was open to any conversation with any ballclub. Of course, they’re were rumors out there. ‘You’re going to go to the Mets. You’re going to go to St. Louis or Atlanta.’ But, you know, I was open to talk to anybody. The first one was the Mets and I believed that of course I wanted to be in that city. A lot of factors helped me go there. It was an easy decision to make. It wasn’t hard, no.
Being that it was your first time as free agent, how did you like that give and take? A team obviously wants you, but they put you at a certain price. You and your agent obviously had an opinion on your own value. How did you like hearing that back and forth about your value?
When I went there, I didn’t know what to think or what to say. It’s a big decision. The team is going to give you a certain offer and you’re going to ask for me. That’s negotiations. Like I said, it’s a business. It was my first time. I’ve never been on the free-agent market. … It was a good experience. It’s something I’m going to learn from in the future. Now for next time I can know what to expect.
A lot of big-name people who come to New York as free agents find they have their performances picked apart, good or bad, over and over and over again and some of them find that experience very unpleasant. Are you prepared for that kind of an experience in New York? Do you think your personality is well suited to having your performances examined?
I look forward to that experience. I can tell you right now, one thing I cannot control is what is going to happen outside the field. I cannot control what they’re going to say in the stands. I cannot control what the writer, or media, or anybody can say. The only thing I can control is what I do on the field. That’s it. The distractions, you have to put them aside. If you take any bad outing, or what people say about you, or if people boo you, if you put that in your head then you’re not going to be able to get the job done. Right now the only think I’m really going to focus on is what I do on the field. The rest I can’t control.
Now that you’re back in Venezuela, can you get any sense of the excitement of having you and Johan pitch on the same team?
Yeah, it’s going to be nice. When I go to the mall or go get groceries — things you do in regular life — people come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you two guys, you and Johan, are going to be in New York and it’s going to be exciting to have two Venezuelans on the same team.’ It’s really nice. It’s the fans here and the people here, even my family. It puts a little bit of pressure on you because you want to perform well so you can enjoy it. Everybody knows Johan is one of the best. … It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m going to look forward to when spring training starts, so I can look forward to joining the guys and have some fun with the Mets fans.
How surprised were you when (Santana) called during dinner the other night?
I wasn’t surprised. It was really a coincidence. He was calling Tony (Bernazard) to say what’s up, how are you doing, so I wasn’t surprised at all. I had a chance to talk to him a little bit. He told me all the best things about New York and some of the bad things, too.
You were talking before about working on your changeup last year and that it took a couple miles an hour off your velocity. So do you think with a year’s adjustment that now your velocity will kick back up?
Yeah, it will. No question about it. Not a question at all. This year, like I said earlier, I’m going to work a lot harder and come back a lot stronger than I’ve ever been. It’s not going to be a problem. It’s not a concern for me.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Mets antics and them irritating the other teams in the NL East. Are you going to be as animated on the mound as you were in Anaheim? Is that just part of your personality and your game?
Of course. I’m never going change the way I do my job. New York, the atmosphere is totally different. It’s a totally different environment. In Anaheim, they’re more calm, they’re really relaxed watching the game. The Met fans, in the past when I played there, they feed off the noise. I try to take the energy from the crowd. The energy is going to help me get more into it. It’s going to help me.
So does it bother you if it bothers other teams?
No, not at all. Its’ something that never bothers me. I don’t think it will at all.
The Phillies have talked a lot of trash about the Mets. They are the division champions and World Series champions. How much do you look forward to joining that rivalry and perhaps winning the division so the Phillies can’t talk anymore?
That question is kind of difficult, but at the same time easy to answer. Difficult because the last two years I have not been there. I have not lived that experience with that rivalry. The easy part is of course we’re going to try to win division. Of course we’re going to try to be front runner. Of course we’re going to try to be the team to beat. I don’t want this to be a controversy. Or have another ball club in that division to take it personally. I’m a really competitive guy. I like to win. But of course, when they ask me who is going to win the National League East it’s an easy question. It’s going to be the Mets. Easy question.