The Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Mets today was mostly a breeze, until Henry Rodriguez entered in the eighth inning and it momentarily grew … complicated. Complicated is the best word. Manager Davey Johnson thought he had found Rodriguez some easy work. Instead, Rodriguez endangered the win and made the Nationals’ decision on his roster spot a little harder.
Rodriguez started the eighth with a four-pitch walk to Josh Thole, all on fastballs. Rodriguez walked Andres Torres, too, after Torres pushed the count full and fouled off a pitch. Suddenly, the tying run in a 5-1 game had moved into the on-deck circle. Johnson came to yank Rodriguez. For the second straight appearance, Rodriguez had faced two batters, allowed them both to reach base and been pulled.
“With Henry, it’s kind of hit or miss,” Johnson said. “Nobody hits him, but if he doesn’t get it over, it doesn’t matter. They’re still going to get on base. He’s got great stuff, a great arm.”
He also has a 5.19 ERA on the season. The Nationals have an eight-man bullpen and soon, they will need to make room on their 25-man roster for Jayson Werth and Chad Tracy. Rodriguez is unreliable and inconsistent, and in the heat of a playoff race the Nationals would not want him on the mound. He may seem like the obvious candidate to be cut, but it’s not that simple.
Rodriguez is out of options, so he cannot be sent to the minors without the Nationals losing him. The Nationals do not want to give away a 25-year-old with stuff that, at its best, rivals Stephen Strasburg’s. When asked if Rodriguez had to show improvement to feel secure, Johnson gave no indication the Nationals had considered that an option.
“There’s another day tomorrow,” Johnson said. “I’m not afraid to run him out there. He’s been spectacular for us, and at times not so good. Next time out, I’ll probably get spectacular.”
Wednesday, he got a mess. Craig Stammen came on for Rodriguez and walked Scott Hairston, which loaded the bases with no outs. After Stammen retired Ruben Tejada on a liner to center, Johnson turned next to Sean Burnett. He induced a dribbler down the first base line, an out that scored a run.
The spinning wheel landed next on Drew Storen, the fourth reliever of the inning, in case you lost count. David Wright came to the plate as the tying run. Storen had faced him Monday night and retired him on a drive to deep center. Storen, still working his way into form following his return from elbow surgery, knew he would have to change his approach.
“That guy’s an incredible hitter, but he’s a smart hitter, too,” Storen said. “He knows what I’m going to try to do and that’s what I need to get in those situations where you’ve got to think a little bit and battle and it becomes a little bit of a chess match.”
Storen had thrown Wright only sinkers on Monday, and so he started Wright with two sliders, both balls. On 2-0, now he tried to fool him and get back in the at-bat with yet another slider. “I know if I hang it it’s not coming back,” Storen said. “So I’ve just got to trust it.”
The slider curled low over the inside half of the plate, a called strike. Storen went back to the sinker, and Wright hit a weak grounder to third to end the inning. The Nationals had turned a bases-loaded, no-out jam into a one-run inning.
They still had another problem on their hands, the decision of what to do with Rodriguez.
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