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Washington Nationals: Henry Rodriguez And His 100 MPH Fastball Are Coming To D.C.

In a January 7, 2010 interview with hosts Byron Kerr (also of MASN @bkerr32) and Francis Rose (also of WFED), Washington Nationals' Skipper Jim Riggleman said the move made by D.C. GM Mike Rizzo to acquire Oakland A's right-handed pitching prospect Henry Rodriguez (and 25 yo. OF Corey Brown) in return for left fielder Josh Willingham, though overshadowed by the signings of Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, was a, "subtle move," by the general manager, "that is going to pay dividends for us for many years." The fact that Rodriguez, the hard-throwing closer candidate signed out of Santa Barbara, Zulia, Venezuela by the A's on July 18, 2003, was up and down in Oakland last season, and was out of options, wasn't a concern, as Mr. Rizzo explained in an interview with the D.C. press corps this winter. "We fully expect Henry to make the club," Rizzo said, "He's been scouted extensively by us. We think that he's a power arm that's going to fit in somewhere in the middle of the bullpen." 

The Nationals' official press release announcing the deal introduced Rodriguez as a, "hard-throwing right-hander," who had, "ranked fourth in the big leagues last season with an average fastball velocity of 98.45 miles per hour, after his 98.96 mph average in 2009 trailed only Detroit's Joel Zumaya (99.19 mph)." 

"Rodriguez touched 103.2 mph on the gun in 2010," the press release continued, "a high that was topped only by Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman (105.1 mph) and Texas' Neftali Feliz (103.4 mph)." Though he, "lives off his fastball," as Baseball America writers Jim Shonerd and Matt Eddy's pointed out in article on the trade that brought Rodriguez to Washington entitled, "Athletics Add Willingham To Outfield Mix", Rodriguez also has a, "hard slider with tilt, though he struggles to throw it for strikes." The two pitches, according to the BA writers, could, "...give him the chance to be a big league closer—if he can refine his control and command." 

Coming off an '06 season with the Rookie level AZL Athletics in which he'd walked 50 (10.3 BB/9) and K'd 59 (12.2 K/9) in 15 games (4 GS) and 43.2 IP, Rodriguez was ranked 10th overall by Baseball Prospectus' writer Kevin Goldstein in a January '07 edition of his Future Shocks column entitled, "Oakland Athletics Top Ten Prospects", in which Mr. Goldstein wrote that Rodriguez had the, "best raw arm in the organization," with a high-90's heater, a breaking ball that, "projects as a plus pitch," and, "excellent feel for a changeup," while also noting that "raw" in the right-hander's case, "is the understatement of the century." Following an '07 campaign at Class-A Kane County in which he'd walked 58 (5.2 BB/9) and K'd 106 (9.6 K/9) in 20 G, 18 GS and 99.2 IP, Rodriguez made his first appearance on Baseball America's Chris Kline's list of the Top 10 Prospects in the A's system, ranked 8th overall as the sixth-best pitcher and fourth-best right-hander in Oakland's system.

ESPN writer Peter Gammons talked to a scout in Arizona for an '08 Spring Training article entitled, "Grapefruit League's eight to watch", in which the anonymous evaluator said the then-21-year-old right-hander was, "The best young pitcher I've seen in two years out here. He throws 98 with a devastating breaking ball." Rodriguez introduced himself to the national baseball audience that July, when he appeared in the '08 All-Star Futures Game in old Yankee Stadium, walking the first batter he faced before, "[unleashing] a series of 100 mph fastballs to strike out the next three batters," as's Jason Beck reported in a July '08 article entitled, "Nerves not a problem in Futures Game." (ed. note - "Rodriguez set Nats' prospect Shairon Martis up for the save.")

Rodriguez continued to struggle with his control in '08, however, walking 40 (4.8 BB/9) and striking out 106 (12.5 K/9) in 20 games, 13 starts and 75.0 innings at Class-A Stockton and issuing 44 walks (9.7 BB/9) while recording 43 K's (9.4 K/9) 14 games, 9 starts and 41.0 IP for Double-A Midland, so he found himself working out the pen in 2009. In 40 games (3 at Class-A Stockton, 37 at Triple-A Sacramento) and 48.2 IP in relief, the right-hander walked 39 (7.2 BB/9) and struck out 82 (15.2 K/9) while allowing 41 hits and 28 ER, working his way up for a late season major league debut with the A's. 

In 2010, back at Triple-A, the control-challenged flamethrower walked nine (3.80 BB/9) and K 'd 31 (13.08 K/9) while recording 11 saves and posting a 1.69 ERA with a 2.15 FIP in 20 games and 21.1 IP for the Sacramento River Cats in between trips to the majors, where Rodriguez walked 13 (4.23 BB/9) and K'd 33 (10.73 K/9) in 29 games and 27.2 IP for the A's in which he allowed 25 hits and 16 runs, 14 earned (4.55 ERA, 3.15 FIP) while blowing his first major league save and earning his first MLB W. Rodriguez then pitched in the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional for the Leones del Caracas, walking 9 and striking out 28 while posting a 1.69 ERA with 5 saves in 18 games and 21.1 IP in which he impressed Nats' first base coach Dan Radison, (who managed Jesus Flores w/ the VWL's Navegantes del Magallanes.)

Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore, in an article after the trade this December entitled, "Josh Willingham traded by Washington Nationals to Oakland Athletics for Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown", quoted D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, who said as he has since, that, "'From everything we've seen, we believe that Rodriguez is going to make our big league club in our bullpen.'" After listening to trade offers for Willingham at the July deadline, Rizzo told the press that though Willingham, "...was a very popular item to discuss," and, "There were serious inquiries for Josh Willingham," the Nats' Front Office, "...didn't feel that we got the return back to feel good about moving him." Rizzo held out through the Winter Meetings and then finally made the deal when the Nationals got an offer they liked from the A's. "It was a better package than we got last year at the trade deadline for Josh," Mr. Rizzo told the Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore, and Rodriguez was the key piece the Nats received in return as the WaPost writer noted.

Can Henry Rodriguez challenge Drew Storen for the closer's role? Will he end up setting up for Storen in the seventh and eighth along with Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett? The Nats will have to wait til June to see what they can get with the picks the received in return for Adam Dunn leaving the nation's capital and signing with the White Sox in Chicago after the Nats decided against trading their big middle-of-the-order bat. Rizzo pulled the trigger on a trade for Willingham, however, and the Nationals will find out in the next two months what they got in return when Rodriguez battles for a role in the bullpen this Spring.