The process of putting Henry Rodriguez back together again began Wednesday night in Philadelphia, and it was a slow start.
Manager Davey Johnson promised a “less-demanding role” for Rodriguez after moving him out of the closer role after Monday night’s final-straw implosion. Rodriguez’s first chance came last night with the Nationals trailing, 3-0, in the bottom of the eighth.
He walked the first batter he faced, Hunter Pence, on five pitches, all fastballs, one of them deflecting off Jesus Flores’s mitt and scooting all the way to backstop. Two batters later, after Pence was thrown out stealing, Shane Victorino launched a 3-2 fastball over the right field fence. Rodriguez then got out of the inning.
“He started off a little rough and seemed to gather himself,” Johnson said. “I told him after the ball game, ‘I need you, man.’ We’ve got a long way to go. There’s a lot of battles to be won. He’s taking it pretty hard when he’s not successful. But he’ll be back. He’ll be all right.”
Johnson knows the Nationals will need Rodriguez to reach their full potential. Despite his significant struggles, Rodriguez remains an immense talent, the same reliever who last year, in a set-up role, allowed three earned runs in his final 21 1/3 innings. Even this season amid his difficulty, he pitched an inning in which he struck out the side in 10 pitches.
Rodriguez at the moment seems to have lost faith in his offspeed pitches. Out of 20 pitches, he threw five sliders and no changeups. His control, of course, remains an issue – nine of the 20 pitches were strikes.
Rodriguez can still be a weapon in the bullpen this season, and he will need to be for the Nationals to be their best. As last night showed, it may take a while.
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