Learning patience at the plate hasn't been an easy assignment for the youngest member of the Augusta GreenJackets. But on the night before Rafael Rodriguez's 19th birthday, aggressiveness was the key when his game-winning hit made the difference in a 5-3 win over the Hagerstown Suns on Tuesday.
Rodriguez laced the first pitch he saw in the seventh to left field for a two-out, two-RBI double to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead.
The San Francisco Giants' prized Dominican prospect got a reported signing bonus of $2.55 million three years ago, and though his shaky defense and .237 batting average at the Single-A level doesn't appear to validate the investment, his performance in the clutch -- a .348 average with two outs and runners on base -- is a good indication of his potential.
"At the beginning (of the season) we were teaching him to be more patient at the plate. He was swinging early and getting behind," GreenJackets manager Lipso Nava said. "He likes to be aggressive in the zone, and he's got the right idea when hitting in that situation."
Rodriguez said the high pressure moments are when he feels most comfortable.
"In that situation, I'm looking for anything close to the strike zone. I'm always aggressive, especially when runners are on base," he said through an interpreter. "That's when I concentrate more."
After Rodriguez gave Augusta the lead, Jeff Arnold added another RBI double. Reliever Drew Bowlin (1-0) scattered three hits over two scoreless innings to get the win, while Stephen Harrold threw a perfect ninth for his 11th consecutive save.
"We're very confident in him right now," Nava said of his closer, who ranks fourth in the league with 15 saves. "He has pretty good tools and a good chance to make a career out of this game."
The GreenJackets (10-9, 41-48 overall) got their fifth consecutive win and moved into sole possession of second place in the South Atlantic League's Southern Division.
Hagerstown (12-7, 52-37) saw its four-game winning streak come to an end.
GreenJackets starter Taylor Rogers allowed three runs -- one earned -- and threw 60 of his 80 pitches for strikes but got a no decision after leaving down 3-2 through five.
Hagerstown's Sam Brown (2-3) wrapped up his two innings of relief by giving up a walk and a single in the seventh.