Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez got off to a slow start in 2016, allowing three earned runs in his first appearance of the season. His list of excuses, however, is rock solid: He may have still been fighting the long-term effects of the Zika virus.
ESPN’s Katie Strang reported Wednesday that Rodriguez spent two weeks this offseason fighting the virus while spending time in his native Venezuela. The two months it took to fully shake the illness, Rodriguez said, impacted his spring training regimen.
Rodriguez’s comments add fuel to the discussion surrounding the upcoming 2016 Olympics, scheduled to take place this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Zika is increasingly prevalent. Some public health officials have said the games could put athletes and fans at risk, a reality Rodriguez, 34, acknowledged readily.
Rodriguez told ESPN.com:
"I wouldn't blame them. ... If they have plans to have kids in the future, you've got to think about it. You have to be aware of that as well. You have to do some homework, some research about it."
American athletes, including tennis star Serena Williams and members of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, have also voiced concerns, but none have said that they’ll skip competing due to their concerns.
Despite complaints, the World Health Organization has said changing the games’ schedule or location “will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus."
Rodriguez is considered one of the best closers in MLB history. His 600 saves rank sixth in Major League Baseball’s all-time leaderboard, but his earned-run average of 5.19 in April was well out of step with his career mark of 2.72. Rodriguez seems to have put Zika fully behind him, however, as he turned things around in May with a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings pitched.