Fernando Rodney is in very rare territory

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The Rays have had the magic touch with lightly regarded relievers before, but Fernando Rodney is easily their biggest success story yet.

The 35-year-old Rodney recorded his 31st save Wednesday, moving himself into a tie for the major league lead, and lowered his ERA to 0.74 with a scoreless inning in a 4-1 win over the A’s.

With the season nearly two-thirds over, Rodney is on pace to join Dennis Eckersley as the second reliever ever to save 40 games with a sub-1.00 ERA.

Eckersley saved 48 games and posted a 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 innings for the A’s in 1990. That wasn’t his Cy Young and MVP year, though; he got those awards two years later when he finished with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA in 80 innings.

Just 11 pitchers since 1900 have posted an ERA under 1.00 in at least 50 innings. It happened four times during the deadball era and once by Bill Henry in 1964. The rest to do it were modern relievers:

Rob Murphy (1986 Reds): 0.72 in 50.1 IP
Eckersley (1990 A’s): 0.61 in 73/1 IP
Chris Hammond (2002 Braves): 0.95 in 76 IP
Jonathan Papelbon (2006 Red Sox): 0.92 in 68.1 IP
Dennys Reyes (2006 Twins): 0.89 in 50.2 IP
Eric O’Flaherty (2011 Braves): 0.98 in 73.2 IP

Papelbon, the only closer besides Eckersley in the group, finished with 35 saves in 2006.

After Papelbon, a few others have managed 40 saves with ERAs just above 1.00:

John Smoltz (2003 Braves): 1.12, 45 sv
Jose Mesa (1995 Indians): 1.12, 46 sv
Eric Gagne (2003 Dodgers): 1.20, 55 Sv
Armando Benitez (2004 Marlins): 1.29, 47 Sv

So Rodney could best them all this year, which would be especially amazing considering that his best ERA in the five years from 2007-11 was a 4.24 mark. His career best in a full season was 3.52 in 2006, though he did come in at 2.86 in 44 innings in 2005.

I should also note that Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel could possibly save 40 games with a sub-1.00 ERA as well if he’s near flawless from here on in. He’s pitched 40 innings and allowed six runs so far, giving him a 1.35 ERA to go along with his 30 saves.

Javier Baez, D.J. LeMahieu have disagreement about sign-stealing

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Fellow second basemen Javier Baez of the Cubs and D.J. LeMahieu of the Rockies got into a disagreement in the top of the third inning of Sunday’s game at Coors Field over sign-stealing.

LeMahieu reached on a fielder’s choice ground out, then advanced to second base on Charlie Blackmon‘s single. While Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story were batting, Baez was concerned that LeMahieu was relaying the Cubs’ signs to his teammates. Baez decided to stand in front of LeMahieu to block any information he might have been giving to Arenado and Story. LeMahieu got irritated and the two jawed at each other for a bit. Umpires Vic Carapazza and Greg Gibson had to intervene to tell Baez to knock it off.

There has always been a back-and-forth with alleged sign-stealing. As long as teams aren’t using technology to steal signs, it’s fair game for players to relay information to their teammates about the opposing team’s signs. Last year, MLB determined the Red Sox went against the rules and used technology — an Apple watch in this case — to steal signs from the Yankees. Other teams in the past have been accused of using binoculars from the bullpen to steal signs. In this particular case with Baez and LeMahieu, there was no foul play going on, just Baez trying to make the Rockies cede what he perceived to be their slight competitive advantage.

The Cubs went on to beat the Rockies 9-7 on Sunday.