Injury first claimed Nationals closer Drew Storen. Then, it bit reliever Brad Lidge. The soonest Storen could begin throwing is next week after surgery in early April, and Lidge is three weeks away from serious attempts at it after his own surgery this week.
So the closer’s role was left in the hands of Henry Rodriguez, a fire-balling reliever who has made strides in harnessing his control and talent. Yet, in his first duty as the Nationals’ last line of defense against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, he blew a save on a wild pitch, reminiscent of his old self, the player who led the major leagues with 14 wild pitches last season.
On Wednesday, he came on in relief in the ninth inning with the Nationals trailing the Diamondbacks, 4-3, expected to hold the score so the offense could have one final crack at a victory. He did so, earning his first win of the season and recovering well from that fateful outing in Los Angeles.
Diamondbacks shortstop John McDonald drilled Rodriguez’s first pitch, a 95-mph fastball, into center field for a single. But with a full count, he struck out pinch hitter Lyle Overbay with a 98-mph fastball. (McDonald was caught in a rundown after a failed steal attempt.) For the final out of the inning, Rodriguez needed only three pitches: two 97-mph heaters and knee-buckling low slider.
Rodriguez has closer ability: an explosive fastball, a slider and curveball. And with his chance to fill that role with Manager Davey Johnson’s blessing, his experience closing games could help him further hone his ability in more pressure-packed, late-game situations – ones the Nationals expect to be in if they contend for a playoff spot as hoped.
FROM THE POST
Bryce Harper set the stage and Ian Desmond closed the act, and ended five-game skid, with a two-run, walk-off home run in a 5-4 win over Diamondbacks
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 5, Syracuse 2: Third baseman Carlos Rivera went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI in the loss. The Bisons scored three in fourth inning, the winning difference.
New Britain 5, Harrisburg 4: Leadoff hitter and second baseman Jeff Kobernus is hitting .333/.362/.405 after a 2 for 4 night. The Senators had 11 hits to New Britain’s nine.
Potomac 5, Winston-Salem 0: First baseman Justin Bloxom drove in two runs and catcher David Freitas raised his batting average to .377 after a 3 for 4 night, all singles.
Hagerstown 10, Rome 5: J.P. Ramirez had three hits, while Jason Martinson, Caleb Ramsey and Steve Souza each added two hits. Souza drove in three runs.