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Washington Nationals' Reliever Henry Rodriguez: The Next Big Thing?

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Yes, Henry Rodriguez led the league in wild pitches, throwing 14 by the Nats' catchers in 59 relief appearances last season. And yes, the 25-year-old flame throwing right-handed Washington Nationals' reliever, acquired from the A's along with outfielder Corey Brown in the December 2010 trade that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland, continued to walk too many batters in 2011 (45 BB or 6.17 BB/9). And yes, he would occasionally blow up (walking three batters or more in six separate relief appearances in 2011), but the 6'0'', 190lb Santa Barbara, Zulia, Venezuela-born reliever also managed to remain on the major league roster all season (he had no options left when he was acquired) and finish his first full year in the majors with a 3.56 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 70 K's (9.59 K/9) and just one HR allowed (0.14 HR/9) in 65.2 IP out of the Nationals' pen over which he held opponents to a .220 BAA.

Rodriguez returned to Venezuela this winter where the right-hander pitched for the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional's Leones del Caracas and had a (2-0) record, a .203 BAA, 17 walks (6.45 BB/9) and 24 K's (9.13 K/9) in 23 games and 23.2 IP over which he allowed 16 hits, 10 runs, all earned and one home run. In 2010 in the VWL, Rodriguez walked nine (3.80 BB/9) and K'd 28 (11.81 K/9) in 18 games and 21.1 IP in which he gave up 11 hits and just four runs, all earned. He then went to his first Spring Training with the Nationals after the deal that winter with the A's, where "inflammation" in his right shoulder limited him to just 2.1 IP and delayed the start of his season until April 30th after a short rehab stint in the Nats' system.

Davey Johnson admitted at the end of the season that an attempt to use Rodriguez as a long reliever out of the pen was a bad idea. In the first month after the then-68-year-old skipper took over on the bench, the right-handed reliever struggled, allowing 12 hits, 10 walks and 12 ER in 10 games and 13.1 IP after having allowed just 19 hits, 19 walks and six earned runs in the 24.2 innings he'd pitched from late-April through June.

"I think I kind of got him a little out of whack trying to get him to pitch more than one inning," Johnson told reporters late in the 2011 season, "because he fancies himself more of a one inning guy and he had a little trouble sometimes in that second inning, or even one time I tried to get him to go three innings, but I think he's maturing into either a set-up guy or [possible] closer down the line, so I'm pleased at how he's progressing." In the last two months of the season, Rodriguez walked 16 (5.20 BB/9) and K'd 32 (10.41 K/9) in 27 games and 27.2 IP over which he gave up 23 hits and 12 runs, eight earned. Rodriguez allowed just three runs (all earned) and four walks while recording 14 K's in 12.1 IP in September.

The Nats' right-handed reliever's 6.17 BB/9 in 2011 were the second highest BB/9 among NL relievers, behind only Cincinnati Reds' lefty Aroldis Chapman's (7.38 BB/9), but Rodriguez's 1.8% HR/FB% was the second-lowest in the NL behind only San Francisco's Javier Lopez, who threw 53.0 innings in relief without giving up a HR. Rodriguez threw the 10th highest pitch total amongst relievers in 2011, with 1,236 pitches in 65.2 IP, threw the fourth-highest total of pitches outside the zone, but when he got batters to chase, Rodriguez had the fourth-lowest contact rate on pitches outside the zone amongst NL relievers (50.2%, behind the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen 47.0%, and the Braves' duo of Jonny Venters 43.9% and Craig Kimbrel 43.8%.)

Rodriguez was an excused late arrival to Spring Training this year, but as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore wrote Wednesday, he's impressed Nats' manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty already this Spring. Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak got a one word quote from McCatty after he'd watched Rodriguez pitch this afternoon. The Nationals have to be hoping Henry Rodriguez is the pitcher they saw at the end of the year, the one that the nation's capital last saw striking out three Atlanta Braves' batters on 11 pitches (9 strikes) in his final home outing of the year which ended when he mowed infielder Jack Wilson down with consecutive 100, 101, 101 mph fastballs followed by an 88mph 1-2 slider for a called strike three in a 1-2-3 frame. The one who walked batters in just two of his last 13 appearances.