"You give up on these guys too quick and they turn out to be Joel Hanrahan on you," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner last summer, "and it makes you look pretty bad." When Henry Rodriguez struggled this Spring, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson explained to reporters why he hadn't yet given up on the hard-throwing, control-challenged 26-year-old right-hander who had to either make the Nats' Opening Day roster this year or pass through waivers if the defending NL East Champs wanted to send him down to one of their affiliates.
"If he's healthy, he's got three off-the-chart big league pitches," Johnson said. The Nationals' manager also joked about how Rodriguez's velocity was coming back even if the command wasn't quite there as he recovered from the elbow surgery which ended his 2012 campaign prematurely. "He's throwing 98 [mph], it just ain't going over," Johnson said. That has always been the problem with Rodriguez off course. A plus fastball, plus slider and command that comes and goes. Bat shattering and knee buckling at times, with a devastating change as well. 5.99 BB/9 in his career and 8.00 BB/9 in 18.0 IP in 2013 after tonight's game in Atlanta.
The first pitch Henry Rodriguez threw tonight went to the backstop, and Rodriguez walked the first Braves' batter he faced in the bottom of the 10th in a 1-1 game in Turner Field, putting Evan Gattis on when four pitches missed. It was Gattis' pinch runner, Jordan Schafer who eventually scored the winning run after stealing second on Rodriguez, whose delivery from the stretch is so slow the whole league is now running at will. Rodriguez threw 15 pitches, just five for strikes, and took the loss.
It didn't help that the Nationals blew a second and third no out situation in the top of the ninth, or that the offense once again came up nearly-empty against Tim Hudson, who officially owns the Expos/Nationals franchise. The Nats' offense went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and with the loss they dropped back to .500, 28-28 overall after 56 games.
It was Henry Rodriguez on the mound at the end, however, as an all-too-familiar scenario played out. Johnson's other options, however, after using up Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen last night and using Drew Storen and Fernando Abad earlier in the game, were left-hander Zach Duke (against Evan Gattis?), the just-called up Erik Davis, who would have been making his MLB debut or closer Rafael Soriano. So the ball was handed to Rodriguez.
After a similarly frustrating appearance in late April which saw Rodriguez walk three Cincinnati Reds and give up a run before he was lifted after retiring just one batter, Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell was asked why the Nationals held on to the right-hander who so obviously struggled to throw strikes:
"The career batting average AGAINST Henry is .211. That's hard to come by. If he has his control, so to speak, three times out of four, you can get some good use out of him as the 11th or 12 man on the staff. But he can't keep "walking the house" like he did yesterday."
It was a walk that once again cost Rodriguez and frustrated Davey Johnson:
Davey on Henry: "You can't walk people. He didn't come close on the first guy."— Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) June 2, 2013
After 18.0 innings this year, Rodriguez has a 4.00 ERA, a 5.39 FIP, 16 walks (8.00 BB/9) and 11 Ks (5.50 K/9) in 17 appearances.