Davey Johnson showed his faith in Henry Rodriguez until Rodriguez’s wildness gave him no choice. Rodriguez entered at the start of the ninth inning for a breezy save, the Nationals up 8-5 against one of the worst offensive teams in the league. It was the perfect chance for Rodriguez to recover from his disaster in the ninth Sunday.
And then Rodriguez, for his second pitch, threw a fastball to the backstop.
Rodriguez would walk three of the four batters he faced, throwing 13 balls in 21 pitches, many of them not in the area code as the strike zone. Johnson trudged to the mound and pulled the pitcher had earlier professed his faith in. Sean Burnett entered and made a great escape, inducing a 1-2-3 double play from Jesus Guzman.
Rodriguez has pitched three consecutive games, and so he will have the day off Tuesday no matter what. But Rodriguez, Johnson again said categorically, is the Nationals’ closer, and that fatigue had played a role in Rodriguez’s downfall.
“I still have utmost confidence in Henry,” Johnson said. “That was his third day in a row going and he threw a lot of pitches. I’ll probably giving him off tomorrow regardless. I still have a lot of confidence in him. I went up to him after the game, I said, ‘Henry, you’re my man. I still got a lot of confidence in you.’ That’s the first time he’s actually been wild.”
That last statement could be debated. His performance Monday had the hallmarks of a bad Rodriguez outing. He missed his spot by a yard at times. He kicked dirt on the mound. He moved more slowly the tougher the situation got.
“Probably still thinking about Sunday,” Johnson said. “We all still have a lot of confidence in him. He’ll be back.”
Rodriguez’s struggles allowed Burnett to enter and, in six pitches, earn his ninth career save. He wanted to use his sinker to get a groundball, and after Guzman fouled away several, he chopped one right back to him.
“That’s the toughest throw for a pitcher, just the little short throw back to the catcher,” Burnett said. “I thought in my mind, ‘Do I go overhand? Underhand? Just get rid of it and get get one out.’ It worked out alright.”
Burnett had only pitched 7 1 / 3 innings all year before the weekend, and at one point he jokingly laid his jersey over Johnson’s desk. He had warmed up frequently, and Burnett said the extra bullpen time actually helped him sharpen his changeup and breaking ball.
Burnett has now thrown in three of the Nationals’ past four games. Johnson approached him after the game. “I said, ‘How’s my iron man doing?’ ” Johnson said. “He says, ‘I’m fine.’ ”
Despite Rodriguez’s struggles, and because of Burnett, so were the Nationals.