Bluefish name Luis Rodriguez manager

The Bridgeport Bluefish have announced that Luis Rodriguez has been named the seventh manager in franchise history. The team has also appointed Joe Winkelsas as pitching coach.

Rodriguez returns for his ninth season with the Bluefish, as he spent his previous eight years as a player (last four as player/coach). This will also be his 11th season in the Atlantic League and 24th of professional baseball.

“We’re proud to announce that Luis will be at the helm of the Bluefish for the 2016 season” said Bluefish general manager Jamie Toole. “He’s been with this organization for almost a decade and has been an integral part of the team each year. Luis is a proven leader and passionate individual, who brings over 20 years of professional experience to the clubhouse.”

At the beginning of the 2013 season, the 41-year-old participated in the World Baseball Classic as part of the coaching staff for Team Venezuela. Along with manager Luis Sojo, he helped coach the likes of major-leaguers Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Elvis Andrus.

“It’s an honor to be named field manager of the franchise I have spent my last eight seasons with,” said Rodriguez. “Having over 23 years of experience in professional baseball, including 10 in the Atlantic League, I am confident we can instill a winning mentality in Bridgeport. I look forward to teaching our team to play the game with passion and give their best effort every day. We are going to create a great product on the field that our fans can enjoy and cheer for.”

Known as “The Machete” for his penchant for cutting down runners on the basepaths with a cannon of an arm, Rodriguez has played for the Long Island Ducks and the Nashua Pride, then of the Atlantic League, before coming to Bridgeport in 2008. Although he is primarily a catcher, the Venezuelan native has played every position and has a .985 career fielding percentage.

The veteran backstop brings extensive professional experience to Bridgeport, including eight stints at the Triple-A level with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Cardinals and Tigers organizations. Over his minor league career, Rodriguez  has appeared in 1,720 games, recording a .253 batting average with 106 home runs and 733 RBI. He was originally signed as a non-drafted free agent at the age of 17 by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 1, 1991.

Winkelsas joins the Bluefish for his third season in the Atlantic League, and first in a coaching role. Last year, he made his coaching debut when he served as pitching coach for the Sioux Fall Canaries of the American Association. The 42-year-old managed the pitching staff to a 4.28 ERA, which was the fifth best team ERA in Sioux Falls history since the club’s inception in 1993 and lowest since the 2008 campaign.

“Joe is a professional in every sense of the word and is familiar with the Atlantic League,” said Toole. “He also brings widespread experience to the club, including a couple years in the Major Leagues. We look forward to his contributions.”

Winkelsas, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, began his professional career in 1996 when he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Atlanta Braves. He spent four years in the Braves organization before making his Major League debut with the club in 1999, and continued to play in the Atlanta farm system through 2003.

“This is a great opportunity for me to continue my coaching career,” said Winkelsas. “The Atlantic League has a wide array of talent and it will be an honor to work with all the unique individuals. I believe, with 15 years of professional baseball under my belt, I can help this team and the players achieve their goals.”

Winkelsas is an Atlantic League success story, as he first joined the league in 2004 as a member of the Somerset Patriots. He appeared in seven games for the Patriots before having his contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox organization.

After spending the next season with the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, he was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006. Following 19 appearances in the minor leagues, the righthander returned to the Majors to pitch for the Brewers. He has appeared in 311 career minor league games and holds a 3.72 ERA with 27 wins and 293 strikeouts over the course of 445 innings pitched.