By the end of last season, Henry Rodriguez was pitching great. This spring, he has looked even better. Rodriguez has utterly reversed the dismal first impression he made in Washington, a first impression based on one day more than any other.
Rodriguez came to the Nationals from the Oakland A’s as one of baseball’s classic archetypes, the throw-it-hard, guess-where-it-goes reliever, Wild Thing Vaughn come to life. The worst part of those extremes surfaced May 8, against the Marlins in Florida.
Rodriguez came in to mop up the eighth inning, the final inning of a dismal 7-0 game, the end of a miserably sticky-hot day. He walked three of the six batters he faced. He threw 18 balls in 27 pitches, including two wild pitches. Ivan Rodriguez said afterward he felt like hockey goalie trying to combat Rodriguez’s pitches.
“I’m not making excuses,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “The day in Miami, I’ve never talked about it. But the mound was terrible. He said he had a little problem. It’s tougher on a hard-thrower when you’ve got three different holes out there. That particularly day is the one everybody remembers.”
It made an impression on the Nationals, too. Rodriguez did not pitch again for six days. Four days later, the Nationals would not let him leave the bullpen even as they played the Braves into the 10th and Doug Slaten pitched the longest outing of his career.
But Rodriguez has steadily made that first impression fade. He has been the Nationals’ most dominant this spring, walking two batters in nine innings. The day in Miami seems like it happened longer and longer ago.
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL