Maels R. Rodríguez Corrales
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 215 lb.
Rodríguez led the 1998-1999 Serie Nacional with 69 walks. Noted for his fastball, the teenager joined the Cuban national team for game one of the 1999 Baltimore Orioles-Cuban National Team Exhibition Series. He also was with Cuba for the 1999 Pan American Games. He blew a game against Team USA in the 9th, walking two and allowing four hits, including a homer to Marcus Jensen. Cuba still went on to win the competition despite a 1-1, 8.53 record from the young prospect. He did close out the Gold Medal game against the US, pitching a hitless 9th inning while striking out the side.
In 1999-2000, Maels made headlines. On December 8, he became the first pitcher in Cuban National League history to be timed at 100 mph during a game. Exactly two weeks later, he threw the first perfect game in league history. He tied teammate Yovani Aragon for the lead with 177 strikeouts.
In the 2000 Olympics, the hard-throwing right-hander did not allow a run in 13 1/3 IP, striking out 22 and allowing 9 hits and six walks. He threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 7, in the Gold Medal game, but the US still won thanks to a great effort from Ben Sheets and poor work from Cuba's prior two hurlers, Pedro Luis Lazo and José Ibar. Despite not starting one game, Rodríguez tied Jose Contreras for third in the 2000 Olympics in strikeouts, trailing Daisuke Matsuzaka by three and Dae-sung Koo by one. He tied Ryan Franklin for the best ERA.
Rodríguez continued to make history in the 2000-2001 Serie Nacional, striking out 263 in 178 1/3 innings. He shattered Santiago Mederos's 32-year-old record of 208 strikeouts. He also won the pitching Triple Crown thanks to a 1.77 ERA and 15 wins (tied with Eliecer Montes de Oca. He also led the loop with 76 walks and tied for the lead with 23 games started.
Maels struck out 18 in 9 2/3 innings in the 2001 Baseball World Cup though he did allow 10 hits and six walks and had a 4.66 ERA.
During the 2001-2002 Serie Nacional, Rodríguez was 14-3 with a 2.13 ERA, 4th in the league. He led the league in strikeouts (219) and walks (85). His Sancti Spiritus team made it to the finals before losing in seven games. He fanned 41 in the Super Liga, leading the way. He also threw the only no-hitter in the Super Liga's history. Overall, he worked 255 innings in Cuban play (including 46 2/3 IP in just over 2 weeks in the playoffs) and appeared in 45 of 141 possible games in a busy year for a young pitcher. He was the last pitcher to face Omar Linares in Serie Nacional play. He won Serie Nacional Most Valuable Player honors; it would be 11 years before the next pitcher (Ismel Jiménez) won it.
Rodríguez was 8-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 2002-2003 Serie Nacional play and led the league only in walks (87) despite only pitching 113 innings; he struck out 117. Maels was left off the Cuban team for the 2003 Baseball World Cup, allegedly for minor discipline infractions. He had lost 15 mph from his fastball due to injury.
Maels and national team teammate Yobal Dueñas fled Cuba in October of 2003, going to El Salvador. While Rodríguez claimed that Cuban officials had lied about his decline, saying "these are things they invent to cut a little off the careers of some athletes," it was clear that he was washed-up. He had several disappointing tryouts for scouts from major league teams.
Rodríguez was 65-45 in his Cuban career with 14 shutouts and 11 saves. He had 1,148 strikeouts in 938 innings, walking 486. His career ERA was 2.29.
Rodríguez's record for fastest pitch in Cuban history was broken in 2008 by Aroldis Chapman.