Rodriguez finishes Brewers’ 2-0 win for 300th save

Hand impresses in first-ever MLB start
Rodriguez finishes Brewers’ 2-0 win for 300th save

As a young prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system, right-hander Donovan Hand was in the Miller Park stands when Trevor Hoffman recorded his 600th save in September 2010.

Saturday afternoon, when Francisco Rodriguez recorded milestone save No. 300, Hand had a slightly different perspective, having made his first ever major-league start in the Brewers’ 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park.

“It’s unbelievable,” Hand said. “To have my name in the same box score as a guy that got his 300th save … I don’t even have words for that. To go back one day and see that, it’s quite a great feeling.”

For Rodriguez, reaching No. 300 was a special moment, especially considering he didn’t even have a job when the season began. Rodriguez had 291 career saves when he was traded to Milwaukee during the 2011 All-Star Break and served a set-up role for John Axford.

After becoming a free agent, Rodriguez was unable to find a deal anywhere else and accepted the Brewers’ arbitration offer but went 2-7 with a 4.38 ERA in 78 appearances and was not resigned during the off-season.

Again unable to latch on anywhere, Rodriguez eventually signed a minor-league deal with Milwaukee in April and after four scoreless innings in the Brewers’ minor-league system, Rodriguez rejoined Milwaukee on May 16.

Since then, the veteran right-hander has been almost unhittable, posting a 1-0 record and a 0.59 ERA in 16 appearances.

“It’s exciting,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of people thought I was done. People forgot I was only 31 years old. I know what I was capable of doing. The Brewers gave me an opportunity once again and I didn’t want to let them down.”

Rodriguez would probably not have been in a position to become just the 25th pitcher to reach 300 saves had Hand not breezed through his 4 2/3-inning outing.

Hand showed no signs of nervousness, facing the minimum through the first four innings while striking out three. He ran into trouble in the fifth when B.J. Upton reached on a ground-rule double. Brian McCann flew out to center next but Hand threw a wild pitch on ball four to Dan Uggla, moving Upton to third.

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke opted to turn to his bullpen and Burke Badenhop (1-3) ended the threat when Chris Johnson grounded into a force at second.

“He’d thrown a great game but a lot of pitches that inning,” said Roenicke. “I thought he was a little tired.”

Hand’s final line was impressive: just two hits, a walk, three strikeouts and a wild pitch while throwing 33 of his 52 pitches for strikes.

“It felt great,” Hand said. “They came out aggressive, swinging a lot. I tried to keep the ball off the middle of the plate and just see what happened. I wanted to go three innings and anything after that was a bonus. I put us in a position to win and that was the main thing.”

His Atlanta counterpart, right-hander Tim Hudson (4-7), took advantage of Ryan Braun’s absence and scattered seven hits over six innings with four walks — one intentional — and a hit batter while striking out four.

“He was really good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Two runs in six innings, you think you have a good chance to win. We’re just not swinging it right now … obviously.”

The Brewers took the lead on Hudson in the fourth, following Carlos Gomez’s fly out to center with three straight singles to go ahead 1-0. Milwaukee again used small ball in the fifth when Norichkia Aoki drew his second of three walks on the day to open the inning and, after Jean Segura singled and Gomez popped out to first, scored on Ramirez’s base hit to left.

“That’s baseball,” said Hudson, who hasn’t won a game since May 5. “Unfortunately you’re going to lose games like that. You just got to keep grinding things out.”

The two runs turned out to be enough for Milwaukee, which got shutout efforts from Badenhop, Michael Gonzalez and Axford out of the bullpen.

Rodriguez caught a break in the ninth inning when Andrelton Simmons’ line drive to left bounced off the wall. Simmons slipped between first and second and was nearly caught trying to get back to first but Francisco bobbled Rickie Weeks’ cutoff throw, according to umpire Manny Gonzalez.

Rodriguez recovered, retiring Freddie Freeman and B.J. Upton to close out his sixth save of the season.

NOTES: Brewers RHP Marco Estrada will make a rehabilitation start Sunday with Single-A Wisconsin. Estrada has been on the disabled list since straining his left hamstring June 5. … Atlanta has lost eight straight games in Milwaukee dating back to April 2011. During that streak, the Braves have scored just nine runs and have been shut out four times. … Caleb Gindl had a pinch-hit single in the sixth for his first career hit. … Atlanta RHP Brandon Beachy is expected to begin a throwing program sometime in the next few days, according to manager Fredi Gonzalez. Beachy hasn’t pitched since undergoing Tommy John surgery a year ago. … Hand was the ninth starting pitcher used by Milwaukee this season.