With two runners on with one out and the Nationals up 4-2 in the seventh inning against the Orioles on Saturday, Manager Jim Riggleman turned to Henry Rodriguez, a flame-throwing right-hander with previous control issues, to get two more outs for starter Jordan Zimmermann.
Rodriguez, who has suffered through neck spasms and problems with his mechanics and control that got him shelved earlier this season, got Nick Markakis to fly out to left field on four pitches. And then, Rodriguez struck out Adam Jones on three pitches, one of which was a 101-mile per hour fastball.
“That was real big,” Riggleman said. “It can’t always be [Tyler Clippard] to do it. We’re looking for people to do that and we know that Henry’s got more than enough stuff to do it with, it’s just a matter of staying composed and throwing strikes and making the necessary pitches, which he did today.”
Rodriguez, who lowered his ERA to 1.77 in 20 1/3 innings, then pitched a scoreless eighth. He got Matt Wieters and Derrek Lee to fly out to left field before he walked Felix Pie on five pitches. Rodriguez then struck out Mark Reynolds looking on an 85-mile per hour slider, the sixth pitch of the at bat.
All season long, Riggleman has relied mainly on Clippard to bridge the starter and Drew Storen, who notched his 17th save of the season in Saturday’s win. Clippard, who is having a stellar season so far with 1.94 ERA in 41 2/3 innings, is among the the leaders in games pitched by a reliever in the National League. The right-hander had already pitched in three games this week, all one-inning appearances.
>>> Tom Gorzelanny, who has been rehabbing an inflamed and sore left elbow, is expected to start Sunday, Riggleman said. The Nationals have yet to determine what they will do with outfielder Rick Ankiel’s injury (strained intercostal muscle) and whether it will require a stint on the disabled list. But to accomodate Gorzelanny, the Nationals will have to free up a roster spot.
Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty will keep a close eye on Gorzelanny and limit how long he will throw. Gorzelanny said this week he was feeling stronger. He made his first rehab start with Syracuse on Monday, allowing four runs in four innings and throwing about 70 pitches.
“Depending on how things are in the bullpen and how rested we are type of thing but probably if we were fortunate to get five or six innings, 90 pitches, that would probably be a good workload for him,” Riggleman said.
Ankiel was active in the outfield during batting practice before Saturday’s game but still hadn’t swung a bat since the injury on Tuesday. Any roster changes will likely happen Sunday, Riggleman said.
>>> One facet of the Nationals defense came to Zimmermann’s aid early in the second inning on Saturday. In what looked like a failed hit-and-run attempt with Mark Reynolds batting, Ivan Rodriguez gunned down Derrek Lee at second – a bullet off the arm of a 39-year old all-star catcher.
It was the ninth runner that Rodriguez has caught stealing this season in 19 attempts. Together, he and catcher Wilson Ramos lead the major leagues in catching 49 percent (21 of 43) of would-be stealers.