Notebook Item: Rodney on verge of breaking Eck’s ERA mark

ST. PETERSBURG — After a scoreless ninth inning Monday night in a 5-3 win over Baltimore, Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney put himself on the verge of making history.

The righty is in line to break the all-time best ERA by a reliever with 50 or more appearances record after he lowered his mark to 0.6053, passing Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley’s 0.6136 ERA in 1990.

Rodney, who was also awarded the team’s Most Valuable Player award Tuesday, actually became the ninth-inning stopper because of an injury to 2011 closer Kyle Farnsworth. But after a successful offseason before signing a deal with the Rays, Rodney got his chance and proved his worth.

“I think it started in the offseason last year in the Dominican winter ball,” Rodney said. “I did the same kind of job I’ve been doing here, a lot of strikes, a lot of confidence. When I came in Spring Training, I said, ‘I feel ready to go. If I have a chance to pitch like I did in the Dominican, I think I’m gonna do a very good job.'”

Entering Tuesday, Rodney also held a team-record 47 saves, which he credited to the pitchers that set him up for the opportunity.

“I think it started with the starting pitching — they got six, seven innings every night,” Rodney said. “When you have two innings, you don’t have to worry too much. [Joel] Peralta can do a very good job, and I come in and shoot the arrow and close the door.”

With the ERA record in the balance, there was the possibility Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon could withhold Rodney in the team’s final two games to preserve his current mark.

But Maddon, who had a normal lineup Tuesday, said that as long as the games mean something, he won’t change anything, and that means putting Rodney in for a save situation.

“We’ll see how these next two games play out,” Maddon said of his plan for Rodney. “We’re gonna try to win the game [Tuesday night] as we normally would, so if there’s a save, he’ll be out there. If the game does not mean anything tomorrow possibly and he’s already wrapped up, then I probably would stay away from him.

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