As the Nationals have surged over the final month of the season, one of the most pleasant developments has been Henry Rodriguez harnessing his powerful right arm. In his past 21 1/3 innings, a span of 22 appearances, Rodriguez has struck out 26 and walked 11 while allowing three earned runs.
Rodriguez pitched one of the most dominant innings of this season Sunday, a three-strikeout performance that had some teammates reviewing the film and giggling a day later. He has also earned his first two career saves over the past week, including Monday’s 6-4 win. Manager Davey Johnson has often talked about the need for a backup closer in order to keep Drew Storen fresh if the Nationals contend, and Rodriguez has emerged as a top candidate.
“Henry, to me, has all the talent to do it,” Johnson said. “He’s grown a lot of ways from the start to where he is now. That’s very important for this organization, and for him. I’ve been more trusting of him.”
Rodriguez’s improvement, he said, owes in part to the more frequent usage by Johnson. He has been “making little adjustments, working hard every day,” Rodriguez said through a translator, while pitching “more comfortable and more relaxed.”
Pitching coach Steve McCatty has worked closely with Rodriguez to make his delivery more consistent. Rodriguez had a tendency to rush his delivery, which caused him to cut short his arm action and drag his arm across his body. McCatty would tell him, “Make sure you finish. Concentrate on the finish to the plate.”
In his bullpen sessions over the course of the year, Rodriguez has been receptive, and the results have shown. Because Rodriguez has such power, McCatty knows he will always be prone to “blow ups” now and again. The key is to have them happen less and less, and recently they have.
“Henry’s a good guy,” McCatty said. “I love Henry. There’s never a problem. If he appears that he’s not talkative or whatever, that might be because of the language. His English is fine. He’s got a good sense of humor. He laughs. We can talk a lot. When I tell him things, he’s always receptive. He told me he just wants to learn.”