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Houston's Rodriguez is NL Pitcher of July

Houston's Rodriguez is NL Pitcher of July

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HOUSTON -- The latest step in the maturing of Houston left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was validated Tuesday when he was named National League Pitcher of the Month for July.

Rodriguez went 4-0 with an 0.75 ERA in five starts, including throwing a five-hit shutout July 8 against Pittsburgh. He struck out 34 in 36 innings in the month.

"I feel happy today," Rodriguez said through interpreter Javier Braccamonte, an Astros batting-practice pitcher and bullpen catcher. "It gives me more inspiration to keep working hard and keep doing good.

"I was not surprised, because I was pitching good the whole month. It's a good award to have with [San Francisco's Tim Lincecum] and all those guys around."

Astros manager Cecil Cooper remembered Rodriguez pitching an exhibition game against the Astros for Triple-A Round Rock in 2005.

"He struck out eight or 10 of our guys," Cooper said. "You know there was something there. By mid-May, he was [with the big club]."

Houston catcher Ivan Rodriguez, no relation to Wandy, was happy for the left-hander, who is 10-6 with a 2.63 ERA for the season.

"He deserves it," Pudge said. "He hasn't changed anything since the season started. He throws a lot of strikes, challenges hitters and doesn't try to do too much. His fastball jumps out of his hand and he's got a great breaking ball. When he's got those pitches working, he's very tough to hit."

Rodriguez was pretty much a .500 pitcher for his first four seasons in the Majors, but his ERA dropped steadily from 5.64 in 2006 to 4.58 in 2007 and 3.54 last year.

"He's continued to grow like that and mature," Cooper said.

"For the most part, Wandy's issues have been letting external stuff get in the way. It used to be if he thought somebody missed a call, he would get all upset on the mound and kind of lose it. Or if there was an error, he would lose focus or get a little upset. I see him not letting that stuff happen anymore."

Listed at a mere 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, Rodriguez is not the prototypical pitcher in the big leagues.

"When I pitched my first game in Chicago, I never realized I had to be so big to pitch in the big leagues, like the pitchers who were 6-4, 6-3," Rodriguez said.

"I don't buy into all the size stuff, that a smaller guy is going to break down earlier," said Astros right-hander Brian Mohler, who fits the mold of a pitcher at 6-3, 230. "If you can pitch, you can pitch.

"His ball jumps out of his hand. His curveball has a sharp break to it and is extremely hard for hitters to pick up. He throws all his pitches for strikes. That puts the hitters on the defensive. They know they've got to swing the bat. They can't go up there and wait."

Cooper said the whole key for Rodriguez is command, command, command.

"His forte is [throwing] 90, 91 with command," Cooper said. "If he can do that and throw his curveball, he's going to be effective.

"The games he's lost is because he had a four-run or five-run inning. He let one inning blow him up, particularly on the road. If he doesn't do that, he's tough as nails. He'll go six, seven innings almost every time."

For a couple of seasons, Rodriguez pitched extremely well at home and poorly on the road. He never understood why.

"I always did my best on the road also, and always felt good," said Rodriguez, insisting it was not a mental hurdle for him.

But he has overcome the problem.

"You don't have to be big," Ivan Rodriguez said. "He's pitching like a big guy. He throws strikes and locates the baseball. When you do that, you're going to get a lot of guys out. The most important thing is communication. When the pitcher and catcher are on the same page, good things are going to happen."

Wandy Rodriguez's next start is in doubt after he left his game Saturday at St. Louis after four innings with a strained right hamstring.

He is scheduled to start again Saturday at home vs. Milwaukee and said he would know more after throwing a bullpen session Wednesday.

"I feel better today," he said. "I hope to improve tomorrow."

Cooper wasn't quite as sure.

"That's a hamstring; you have to stretch out to throw," Cooper said. "He was throwing OK [Monday on flat ground]. Pitching and throwing are different things. You need your legs to be able to pitch."

Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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