By the end of last season, you could not find a more dominant reliever than Henry Rodriguez. Even early in the season, when his wildness threatened the well-being of backstops everywhere, the league could not hit a ball squarely against him. Opponents slugged .252 against him for the season.
And then Rodriguez harnessed that fastball, the hardest in the league. He began throwing his curveball for strikes. He mixed in his change-up, the one former manager Jim Riggleman once compared to Stephen Strasburg’s. In his final 22 games, Rodriguez struck out 26, walked 11 and gave up three runs. He became downright scary for National League hitters, and here is the scarier part.
“He’s picking up where he did last year,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Rodriguez arrived late to Nationals spring training in 2010, and it took him months to get healthy and feel comfortable with his new team in the wake of his trade from the Oakland Athletics. He tried to prepare quickly, and his arm never felt 100 percent.
This year Rodriguez already feels at home and in command of his pitches, and it shows. After another 1-2-3 inning last night, Rodriguez has thrown five scoreless innings this spring, allowing one hit while striking out four.
“I learned from last year,” Rodriguez said, with teammate Andres Blanco translating. “I know I don’t need to do too much. I try to concentrate on the pitch and the location. And it works.”
Last year, Rodriguez stopped “trying to do too much,” he said, and the results encouraged him to stay under control. Rodriguez averaged 98 mph with his fastball last year, according to data gathered by FanGraphs.com, the quickest in the majors. This spring, he has been content to sit at 96 mph and focus on his command. By taking a few miles per hour off, he said, he noticed more movement on his fastball.
Rodriguez will presumably build back the velocity in his fastball by the time the season rolls around. And if the movement stays? Well, yeah, that would be scary.
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