Rodriguez picks up fourth win of '06

Rodriguez picks up fourth win of '06

HOUSTON -- Roger who?

If the young neophytes who comprise three-fifths of the Houston Astros pitching staff continue to perform like they've done so far in April, losing the Rocket to the Yankees, or the Red Sox or retirement may not be so devastating.

On Wednesday, Wandy Rodriguez improved to 4-0 on the year by thwarting the Los Angeles Dodgers over seven innings, lifting the Astros to an 8-5 win before 32,874 at Minute Maid Park.

Pitchers currently in the starting rotation not named Roy Oswalt or Andy Pettitte -- that would be Rodriguez, Fernando Nieve and Taylor Buchholz -- are a combined 5-1 with a 2.67 ERA, spanning 64 innings and 14 games (nine starts).

The Astros, not so coincidentally, are on top of the National League Central division with a 15-6 mark. They finished their nine-game homestand at 7-2. The club has also not lost a series yet this season. "All you've got to do is watch around the league to see what really good starting pitching is," said Chris Burke, who was 3-for-4 after making his first start at shortstop. "You watch other games and pitchers are coming out in the fourth, or the third, or the fifth. We've had such good starting pitching and production throughout our lineup. That's a really good formula for wins."

Entering Wednesday's game, the starting rotation had a collective ERA of 2.91, the best in the league by nearly a half-run. Rodriguez did his part in maintaining the starting staff's terrific numbers, tying his career high with six strikeouts while holding the Dodgers to five hits and two runs.

Rodriguez hardly carries the superstar tag that his No. 3 predecesor, Clemens, did in that slot in the rotation last year. But the young left-hander is more than carrying his weight, and his success could translate into big things for the Astros this season.

"What is he, 4-0 now?" manager Phil Garner said. "And he's pitched well in all these ballgames. He's coming after hitters and he's filled that [Clemens] void quite well. The bottom line is you want to win ballgames when the guy's pitching, and that's what we're doing when Wandy's been on the mound."

Rodriguez cruised through the first four innings, but allowed a two-run homer to Jason Repko in the fifth. It hardly mattered, however, considering the Astros were already ahead, 6-0.

"Today, I failed on my location on several pitches, but fortunately, my curveball was working for me," Rodriguez said. "I was able to put it in the zone and put guys away with it."

Rodriguez has allowed three earned runs over his last three starts, totaling 20 innings. It appears the extra work he put in with pitching coach Jim Hickey during Spring Training helped, and better yet, it's translating into results he didn't have last year.

His tempo is faster. His attitude is better. He's controlling his emotions on the mound, and he's making quick work of his opponents.

"He started doing it last year -- it was something that Jim worked with him last year," Garner said. "His whole demeanor and he's working with a better tempo. He's done that. Along with that, he's throwing strikes, too."

Rodriguez's teammates appear to have gained confidence in him, also. They certainly seemed relaxed at the plate, knocking 11 hits off Dodgers starter Odalis Perez while logging four extra-base hits.

"I can't talk about the confidence [my teammates] have in me -- I think that's something you'll have to ask them," Rodriguez said. "But now, I feel confident going out to the mound and what those guys are doing for me. They're scoring runs for me, and they're making my job a lot easier."

Burke praised Rodriguez for his ability to deceive hitters with his fastball and curveball.

"Most left-handers have kind of a sinking tailing action to their fastball," Burke said. "Wandy's fastball stays really true, and I think he gets a lot of takes on that outside corner because guys see it out of his hand and they think it's going to be down and away, but it stays true and holds its line.

"Anytime you see a left-hander get swings and misses from righties on their curveball, you know that they're getting a good action on their pitches."

Burke and Lance Berkman paced the Astros offense. Berkman went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer in the third. It was the 19th right-handed homer of the switch-hitter's career.

"It tested us a little bit, no question," Garner said of the Dodgers series. "Milwaukee tested us a little bit, too. But they all feel good."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.