Last night, when the Nationals entered the ninth inning with a 2-0 lead, Davey Johnson had a decision to make. The Nationals’ blowout loss the previous night meant both Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez had plenty of rest. Lidge had been dealing with vertigo recently, but he was “fine,” Johnson said.
And so Johnson had to pick his closer: Rodriguez or Lidge? A lightning arm or a time-tested slider? Youth or experience? Through the bullpen gates jogged Rodriguez.
“I wanted to really test Henry,” Johnson said. “I thought it was going to be a really good test. Henry has done such a great job, so I threw the cookie his way. And he handled it.”
Rodriguez closed his fourth save of the season without allowing a run. He walked two Marlins, but with the stuff he had, he probably would have needed to walk two more in order for the Marlins to score. He threw seven 100-mph fastballs and one that came in at 101. (The 101-mph heater was to John Buck, still the only hitter to homer off Rodriguez since Rodriguez joined the Nationals.)
Johnson has chosen Rodriguez twice in a row since Lidge’s tight-rope save Tuesday night against the Astros. He said match-ups, not just which pitcher is fresher, will sometimes dictate which closer he chooses. Both are right-handers, but Rodriguez’s fastball-changeup approach works better against lefties than Lidge’s fastball-slider.
“I’m really proud of Henry,” Johnson said. “I feel like Henry has handled everything really well. He made a lot of progress. He really earned the right to close some games last year, and certainly this spring. He’s certainly qualified to be a bonafide closer. Lidge falls in that same category when he’s healthy. It’s an interesting scenario.”