Though he didn't pitch after July 31st, 25-year-old flamethrowing right-hander Henry Rodriguez was there with the Washington Nationals when they clinched the NL East, celebrating with his teammates and soaked in champagne in the home team's clubhouse in Nationals Park. The former Oakland A's prospect, acquired along with OF Corey Brown in a December 2010 trade for Josh Willingham, spent time as the Nats' closer in 2012 when Drew Storen was injured and Brad Lidge struggled on the mound, but after a brief stint as the Nationals' ninth inning option, the control-challenged reliever had a series of injuries to his hand, back and elbow cut his season short after 35 appearances in which he had nine saves, a 5.83 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 22 BB (6.75 BB/9) and 31 Ks (9.51 K/9) in 29.1 IP.
Rodriguez converted eight of his first 10 save opportunities, posting a 2.45 ERA with seven walks (4.29 BB/9) and 21 Ks (12.89 K/9) in 14.2 IP between April 7th and May 12th, but after a blown save against Pittsburgh on May 8th in which Pirates' catcher Rod Barajas hit a walk-off home run to beat the Nats and another blown save/loss against the Reds three days later in an appearance in which Rodriguez gave up a single and two walks before allowing a walk-off grand slam by Joey Votto, the right-hander had just one more save all season.
In six more appearances in May, one in June and 11 outings in July, over which he had a 7.07 ERA in 14.0 IP in which he allowed 13 walks, 10 hits and 11 runs while missing time after he slammed his finger in a bathroom door and later experienced lower back issues which led to another DL stint, Rodriguez's season ended when he had surgery to remove a bone spur and what was described as a "large bone chip" in his elbow.
According to reports at the time, including one by the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, Nats' team doctor Wiemi Douoghui said once they got a look at Rodriguez's elbow they realized it was, "... in a lot worse shape than he anticipated," which Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the time might be a positive sign.
"'He’s a power pitcher,'" Rizzo told reporters, "'And if this injury prevented him from performing at his accustomed level, then that’s a good thing. Because when he gets healthy, he should revert back to the guy we saw in spring training and the guy we saw at the beginning of the season.'"
Rizzo was not ready to give up on Rodriguez, who'll turn 26 before Spring Training begins next year, and as he explained to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier on The Mike Rizzo Show earlier this season, there's a reason you don't give up on pitchers with stuff like Rodriguez's:
"[Rodriguez] came in, remember, as a seventh inning guy for us out of Spring Training and was thrown into a ninth inning role extremely quickly. No one expected [Drew] Storen to go down and [Brad] Lidge to go down, our two closers that we felt very comfortable with before the season started. And all [Rodriguez] did when he was thrown in quickly was [go] 9 for 12 in save opportunities, then had some struggles for sure with his command, but you give up on these guys too quick and they turn out to be Joel Hanrahan on you and it makes you look pretty bad."
Joel Hanrahan was 27 when the Washington Nationals dealt him to Pittsburgh in the trade that brought Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to D.C. in return for the right-handed reliever and OF Lastings Milledge. Since that deal, Hanrahan, who had 14 saves with a 5.30 ERA, 94 walks (5.04 BB/9) and 171 Ks (9.16 K/9) in 168.0 IP with Washington, has 82 saves over four-plus seasons with Pittsburgh in which he's put up a 2.59 ERA with 98 BB (3.86 BB/9) and 265 Ks (10.40 K/9) in 238 games and 229.1 IP for the Pirates.
Rodriguez pitched on a 1-year/$0.491M dollar deal in 2012, he's not arbitration-eligible in 2014 and he's out of options, so the Nationals are going to have some decisions to make next Spring. Last March, Rodriguez had a 0.75 ERA with two walks and 12 Ks in 12.0 IP in Spring Training. Will Henry Rodriguez be a part of the Nats' 2013 bullpen?