Fernando Rodney went an inning-plus twice last season, and multiple times back in 2014, ‘15, and ‘16, but hadn’t completed two innings in relief in the majors since September of 2013, when he did it for the second time that season with the Tampa Bay Rays, for whom, coincidentally, Davey Martinez served as the bench coach.
Martinez, now in his second year as the Washington Nationals’ manager, tried to get two innings out of his 42-year-old reliever last night, after Rodney tossed a scoreless 17-pitch inning against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth, retiring the side in order, to keep it close, with the Nats trailing 3-1 in the second game of the four-game series in SunTrust Park.
Victor Robles hit a game-tying, two-out, two-run home run in the top of the ninth, knotting things up at 3-3. Sean Doolittle warmed up for a save opportunity if the Nationals took the lead, but Yan Gomes K’d swinging to end the Nationals’ half of the ninth, so Martinez tried to get more out of Rodney in the bottom of the inning.
“We liked the matchup with Fernando with the two righties [Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Dansby Swanson] and then it just didn’t work out,” the manager explained. Rodney walked Acuña, Jr. on five pitches, and Swanson singled on an 0-2 changeup low and just out of the zone inside.
“You can’t — we’re playing on the road, Doolittle comes in the game for a save, with a tie game, so he comes in right there we end up pinch hitting for him right away, then we’re looking at who knows who,” Martinez said.
Even if he wasn’t going to go to Doolittle in case he needed him for a save situation, was he concerned that Rodney’s pitch count was climbing, up to 25 at that point, which was more than he’d thrown since joining the Nationals? He had thrown as many as 31 back in April in Oakland, with 28 and 24-pitch appearances when he was still with the A’s, though again, he hadn’t completed two innings in the majors in six seasons.
“He’s done that,” Martinez said of a two-inning outing. “He went two innings down at Triple-A. He’s done it a couple times. I went out there and he said he was good.”
Rodney went 1 1⁄3 while with Triple-A Fresno in the Nationals’ system before he was called up to the big league bullpen, but didn’t complete two at any point, though he did go as high as 33 pitches in his longest appearance for the Nats’ top minor league affiliate.
“After the game he told me, he said, ‘Hey, I’m ready to pitch tomorrow. But he threw well, walking Acuña was the big thing.”
Freddie Freeman stepped in next, with two on and no one out, but Martinez didn’t go to his left-hander there either.
“Rodney’s the eighth-inning guy, and Doolittle’s your closer, and those guys have been really good. [Rodney] was throwing 95-96, I mean...”
“[Doolittle] got up, and we thought if — at that point, looking at the pitch count, if we get a strikeout or a ground ball [from Freeman] in that situation, then we’re looking at Doolittle for [Nick] Markakis, and then we’d have to double-switch so that Doolittle could go out the next inning.”
There was no need for a double-switch, and there was never a save opportunity.
Freeman walked on four pitches, loading the bases with no one out, and Josh Donaldson lined Rodney’s 32nd offering high over a five-man infield and over Victor Robles in left-center for a walk-off winner.