On Monday, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson made it clear he didn't want to entertain questions about Sunday's blown save against Cincinnati which saw 25-year-old right-hander Henry Rodriguez give up a single, two walks and a game-winning grand slam by Reds' first baseman Joey Votto. The closer's role is a difficult one, the Nats' 69-year-old skipper explained, even well-established late-inning relievers blow games, and Rodriguez is relatively new to the job, having saved his first major league game late last season and converted eight of eleven opportunities so far this year. "'I’m not going to answer these questions every time there’s a little blip on the radar screen,'" the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore quoted the Nats' manager saying, "'Is he my closer? Yes, he’s my closer. I have all the confidence in the world.'"
Later that night, of course, Johnson had to take Rodriguez out of the first game with San Diego in the recently-completed two-game set with the Padres. With Washington up 8-5, the Nats' closer walked the bases loaded with one out and left-hander Sean Burnett had to come on to end things, getting a grounder back to the mound to start a 1-2-3 game ending double play after just six pitches. "I still haven't lost confidence in Henry," Johnson told reporters after the game, "But probably was asking a lot with... that was his third day in a row going and he threw a lot of pitches in Cincy, so I'll probably give him off [Tuesday] regardless. But I still have a lot of confidence in him. I went up to him after the game and I said, 'Henry, you're my man. I've still got a lot of confidence in you. I mean, that's the first time he's actually been wild.'"
"[He's] probably still thinking about Sunday," Johnson said when asked if fatigue was the only problem for the Nats' closer on Monday night, "But we all still have a lot of confidence in him and he'll be back." Rodriguez was coming off a 10-pitch, 3 K, 1-2-3 outing in earning his eighth save in Cincinnati on Saturday night when he blew the save on Sunday. The right-hander threw 28 pitches (13 strikes) in that game and 21 (only 8 strikes) before he was pulled on Monday night in what was his first rough outing of the year in the nation's capital. On the year, Rodriguez is (1-0) with a 4.16 FIP, four saves, eight walks (8.64 BB/9) seven K's (7.56 K/9) but no runs allowed and just one hit surrendered in 8.1 IP. On the road, Rodriguez is (0-3) with a 9.82 ERA, 4.32 FIP, four walks (4.91 BB/9), 14 K's (17.18 K/9) and all three of his blown saves.
The Nationals, according to what they're saying publicly at least, are sticking with Henry Rodriguez in the closer's role for now. With the injuries to Drew Storen and Brad Lidge, the right-hander's been forced into a role D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said he might one day grow into when he acquired him in a December 2010 trade with the Oakland A's, and as the general manager explained this morning on 106.7 the Fan's The Mike Rizzo Show with Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier, he still has confidence in the flame-throwing right-hander. The decision on how to use Rodriguez on a day to day basis is Davey Johnson's, of course, but the GM expressed the same confidence in the right-hander that his manager has in the past few days.
"I feel comfortable when Henry's out there," Rizzo told the show's hosts, "He's got extremely good stuff. This kid has come leaps and bounds since where he was at this time last year. We feel that he has another leap in him in his developmental curve and I feel confident when he's on the mound. I like when he's on the mound, because when he's on the mound we're usually winning the game in the ninth inning and about 80% of the time he's going to have success and we're going to win the game. This closer thing is a tough position to play. Those last three outs, those final three outs of the game are the most difficult three to get. You see guys like [Jonathan] Papelbon and other closers struggling also, it's just a tough position to play and it's tough to get those final three outs."
"Davey and I both have confidence in Henry," Rizzo concluded, "He's going to be a shutdown closer in the near future. He's pretty darn good right now. When he's on, he's unhittable, and when he's off he struggles, and that's like a lot of them. [Tigers' closer Jose] Valverde, a guy I signed a long time ago in Arizona, is having the same kind of problems. I texted him back and forth the other day and he's a guy that... every so often these guys have some hiccups and those years of Brad Lidge when he was with the Phillies, 49 out of 49, those are few and far between."
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