Everybody loves Wandy Rodriguez, and Wandy Rodriguez clearly loves what he's doing.
Rodriguez is the longest-tenured current Astros player and one of the most likable guys in Houston's clubhouse. When he's not cracking up his fellow Spanish-speaking teammates, he's trying to convince reporters he can't do interviews in English.
"Can I get an interpreter?" he said in English following a game last year. Rodriguez soon started to laugh when he realized no one was coming to his aid and finished putting on his street clothes and said, "OK, let's go, guys."
Teammates have joked for years that Rodriguez knows more English than he's letting on, and considering he's been on the team since 2005 and lives in Houston full time, he probably does.
"The funny thing is everybody thinks he doesn't know English, but once it comes out everybody's like, 'Oh my God,'" said relief pitcher Fernando Rodriguez, who's not related. "The things that come out of his mouth surprise you. It's not in the perfect English, but it's understandable and everybody looks at him and starts cracking up. Most of the time he keeps quiet. He's here to work."
Doing interviews in English is about the only part of his routine Wandy isn't comfortable doing. After all, he's been in the Astros organization longer than any current player and is the only player left from the 2005 National League pennant-winning team.
As one of the most accomplished left-handed pitchers in the Astros' 50-year history, Rodriguez earned the prestigious honor of getting the Opening Day start for the Astros when they face the Colorado Rockies on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
"He doesn't put a lot of pressure on himself," Fernando Rodriguez said. "He's not trying to do too much. He tries to keep it as simple as he can. Every now and then, when things aren't going his way and he has a bad game and is struggling, he shows it. But he's not afraid to ask for help. He's come up to me a few times and kind of has asked about a few things, little things that were bothering him. At the end of the day, he laughs about it."
It will be the first Opening Day start for Rodriguez and the first for an Astros left-hander since Dave Roberts started two in a row in 1973-74.
"I'm going to be ready," said Rodriguez, who signed a three-year, $34-million contract a year ago.
Rodriguez, 33, will be the Astros' third different Opening Day starting pitcher in a row, following Brett Myers (2011) and Roy Oswalt, who made a club-record eight consecutive starts from 2003-2010. Rodriguez went 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 30 starts last year.
Rodriguez ranks first all-time in franchise history in strikeouts as a lefty with 1,004 and ranks second in starts (197) and innings pitched (1,176) and third in wins (73) among left-handers. He was named the Astros' Pitcher of the Year in 2009 and '11.
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
Along the way, he's built up a reputation has a reliable teammate, a guy who will talk to you when you need talking to, but is content to stay out of the way of others.
"He's not afraid to help you," outfielder J.D. Martinez said. "Not so much that he'll go out of his way, but if he sees something, he'll talk to you if he sees you down and he'll tell you something. It's always nice to have guys like that. If he sees something, he'll let you know, but he's not an all-over-the-top-of-you type of guy, which is cool."
Early in his career, Wandy didn't appear to have it in him to lead. The Astros didn't like his body language on the mound when things weren't going his way. He'd snap at the ball when it was thrown back from the catcher following a home run or take his cap off and wipe his head following a base hit.
He's a lot more laid back these days and comfortable in his own skin. And who could blame him? He's as big of a part of the Astros as anyone else in the clubhouse. And he'll throw the first pitch of the Astros' 50th anniversary season on Friday.
"He's a kid in a playground," Fernando Rodriguez said. "Most of the time, he's jumping around, running, always has a smile on his face. He's a loose guy, but at the same time if you want to talk to him about baseball, he'll talk business."