Before they left the Washington Nationals' Spring Training facilities, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson left reporters, including MASN's Dan Kolko, with the impression that barring an issue with his surgically-repaired elbow, 26-year-old right-hander Henry Rodriguez would take the final spot in the bullpen over veteran lefty J.C. Romero. The Nationals' manager has stressed in recent weeks that due to medical restrictions early this Spring, Rodriguez is still behind the other Nats' pitchers, and in spite of the flame-throwing reliever's continued control issues, Johnson said he thinks Rodriguez is getting close to full strength. "He's making progress," MASN's Mr. Kolko quoted Johnson stating, "Even with his wildness, his numbers are still pretty good, if you compare him with everyone else."
In nine games and 8.2 IP this Spring, Rodriguez has given up three hits and four runs, all earned, while walking 10 and striking out seven. The hard-throwing reliever is scheduled to pitch this afternoon against the New York Yankees and J.C. Romero came north with the team too. The Nationals' manager said this morning that Romero was, "still a candidate," but Johnson bristled at the suggestion that Rodriguez might be placed on the DL, allowing Romero to make the Opening Day roster.
"He's actually gotten better," Johnson joked when asked about Rodriguez, "Instead of walking three, he walked two and then there's one. So we're making progress. But I think, again, the thing is with the power arm and his whole program, you try to give them a fair shake to get to where you know they'll get when they have enough throwing. And he's still a great talent. And I'm certainly not anywhere close to giving up on Henry."
"The first time in his life he's probably had his arm operated on," Johnson said, "Also he missed half of last year and then all winter ball. And early in the Spring we couldn't get him on the mound because of medical restrictions. So he has not been afforded the opportunity [that] everybody else in the bullpen or on the ballclub have had all Spring. His has been more of a short Spring."
Asked if Rodriguez might start the season on the DL to allow him to figure things out, the Nats' skipper asked a question in return. "Did I say anything about DL?"
"If he's healthy," Johnson said firmly, "He's going to pitch."
"He's throwing 98 [mph], it just ain't going over," Johnson explained.
"I think he's getting close. I haven't had that discussion with [GM Mike] Rizzo and [Rodriguez] had a little problem, I guess, a week ago during the stretching. And he said it didn't hurt to throw but it hurt when they stretched it." If you saw the stretches they do, however, Johnson joked, "Your's would hurt too."
The Nationals' manager was eager to see what Rodriguez did today pitching against the Yankees in front of the Nationals Park crowd.
"Today's going to be good," Johnson said, "There's going to be a good crowd and it's going to be fun watching him go out there."
As for why they're showing such patience with a pitcher who's struggled with his control throughout his career, the Nats' manager said it was simple, really. "If he's healthy, he's got three off-the-chart big league pitches. And what has he pitched, nine innings this Spring, and given up [three] hits? He's tough."
Rodriguez will have another shot to show he's ready for the start of the season this afternoon.