By Zach Braziller
When Jeremy Rodriguez sees a major league scout behind home plate, it serves as an extra motivator.
A light goes off in his head. His fastball has extra pop, his breaking ball extra bite, his control a little sharper.
“I feel the need to impress a little more,” Francis Lewis’ right-hander said.
He pitched like there were hundreds of radar guns and notepads charting his every pitch in Fresh Meadows May 12.
Despite a sore right ankle, Rodriguez threw the first no-hitter of his career, fanning 16 in a 5-2 victory over Aviation. In doing so, the fire-balling senior picked up his fourth win and lowered his already miniscule ERA, which was at 0.41 when the day began. He now has 52 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings pitched, too.
“It was a big thing for me,” said the 18-year-old Rodriguez, whose fastball sat at 87 to 88 miles per hour and got as high as 90. “It felt good, the first one I’ve ever thrown.”
The performance was the latest in a memorable final year at Francis Lewis. Rodriguez, a Flushing native, has teamed with Jonathan Bobea to form arguably the top 1-2 punch in the city, a pair of hard-throwers that could be selected in June’s MLB Draft.
Rodriguez’s value to the 11-2 Patriots goes well beyond the mound. He is also their top run producer. He entered the game leading the city in walks and fourth in on-base percentage while batting .478 with 18 runs scored and 11 RBIs.
“When he’s not physically hitting, he’s putting himself in position to get pushed across the plate, and he’s doing it unselfishly,” Francis Lewis Coach Ian Millman said. “He’s really brought a dangerous two-dimensional guy to our team, our most potent bat and at times he’s been our most consistent arm. He’s been our best all-around player and most consistent guy on both sides of the coin. Without Jeremy shouldering a large part of the offensive and pitching loads, we certainly would’ve in the position we are in.”
Rodriguez is just as happy to be at Francis Lewis. He thrived at Flushing as a freshman and sophomore, but felt he was putting up numbers in anonymity in Class B. When he arrived at Francis Lewis, his life changed.
He was suddenly being coached by a former professional pitcher in Millman with an endless rolodex of college coaches and scouts. His work ethic improved, thanks to the prodding of Bobea, his lifelong friend. He started to care less about numbers and more about team.
“Long-tossing, throwing, hitting — doing whatever I can to get better [at what] I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t think I would be in the position I am in now if I didn’t come to [Francis Lewis].”
With every day that passes, the playoffs grow closer. Rodriguez nearly led Francis Lewis to a playoff shocker last spring, an upset of fifth-seeded Telecommunications. He carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, when the Yellow Jackets rallied for two runs. He would like to lead the Patriots at least to the quarterfinals, which would be the farthest they have gone in Millman’s three seasons.
Then there is June’s draft. Millman, a former scout who has coached several professionals with the New York Nine summer program, likes Rodriguez’s chances because of his projectability, 6-foot-3 frame and high-end stuff.
“It’s my dream since I started playing baseball, when I was 10 years old,” Rodriguez said. “It’s what I’ve been looking for my entire life.”