Manager Davey Johnson would not let the question be asked before he answered it. A reporter asked Johnson today about Henry Rodriguez’s home-road splits, and Johnson responded with an emphatic vote of confidence for Rodriguez, one day after the 25-year-old’s third blown save of the season yesterday in the Nationals’ 9-6 loss at Cincinnati.
“Yes, he’s my closer,” Johnson said. “He’s been very successful at closing, in a job that’s not that easy. As far as I’m concerned, he’s been great. There’s going to be a little growing pains. I mean, even the best. I mean, [Jonathan] Papelbon. He gave up the three-run homer to a guy that was a rookie, and I think [the Phillies] are going to still close with him.
“Here’s a guy that just last year, I think he got his first save in the big leagues,” Johnson continued. “And this year, he’s been outstanding. He had an outstanding spring. I’m not going to answer these questions every time there’s a little blip on the radar screen. Is he my closer? Yes, he’s my closer. I have all the confidence in the world.”
With Drew Storen and Brad Lidge both returning from injury, Rodriguez clearly has the most potential to close of any candidate in the Nationals’ bullpen, as he showed Saturday night against the Reds when he struck out the side in 10 pitches. But Rodriguez has also been prone to meltdowns when faced with adversity, such as a wet mound yesterday.
Those home-road splits are indeed stark. At Nationals Park, opposing hitters have gone 1 for 24 with five walks and seven strikeouts against Rodriguez. On the road, the league has gone 8 for 31 with two homers, four walks and 14 strikeouts. All three of Rodriguez’s blown saves, and his loss against the Mets, have come on the road.
But Johnson will stick with Rodriguez until Storen and Lidge – both of whom threw today for the first time since their respective surgeries – return. Lidge, who owns 225 career saves, said he has confidence in Rodriguez and he planned to speak with him about harnessing his unparalleled stuff, which includes a 100-mph fastball.
“I really like Henry a lot, and I’m very confident that he’s going to be just fine,” Lidge said. “But he’s young, and he’s young in this role. And those are two things that are extremely difficult right now, just trying to get in there. To be a great closer, you have to have great control and great stuff. And he’s got great stuff, and at times he’s got great control.
“But I think one of the hardest things to learn is, his stuff doesn’t have to be as good as it is. So that’s something obviously we’ll talk about, taking your foot off the gas pedal. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, because your whole life you’re trained to go as hard as you can. And with him, everyone’s so impressed with how hard he throws and how hard everything is, it’s hard to step back sometimes. And when you’re young, it’s really hard to make that adjustment. But I’m confident that he’ll be able to do it. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. I still believe for him, the sky’s the limit for what he wants to do in his career.”
It has been difficult for Lidge to watch the Nationals from afar. Yesterday, he said, he watched the ninth inning unfold and screamed advice at his television. Lidge was asked what he was yelling at his screen. .
“Get the guys out before Votto gets up,” Lidge said, laughing.