The Nationals will finalize the remaining roster spot between left-handed reliever J.C. Romero and hard-throwing right-hander Henry Rodriguez following Friday’s final regular season tuneup game against the New York Yankees.
Romero, a veteran added last week, was destined for Class AAA Syracuse until Rodriguez continued his erratic spring. Rodriguez has allowed only three hits this spring, but that’s offset by his 10 walks and two hit batters over 8 2/3 innings.
The Nationals’ dilemma is that Rodriguez possesses otherworldly ability but has been plagued with sporadic control and, recently, health issues. He is also out of minor leagues options so he has to make the team. Despite being slowed this spring from a return from August elbow surgery, Johnson continues to believe a power arm like Rodriguez needs time to build up his strength and command again. But, of course, time has nearly run out.
“I’m certainly not anywhere close to giving up on Henry,” Johnson said. “It’s probably the first time in his life he’s had his arm operated on. He missed half of last year and winter ball. Early in the spring we couldn’t get him on the mound because of medical restrictions. And so he has not been afforded the opportunities as everybody else in the bullpen or on the ball club have all had all spring.”
Johnson scoffed at the idea of placing Rodriguez on the disabled list to start the season because of lingering elbow tightness or arm tightness he felt earlier this spring. “If he’s healthy, he’s going to pitch. He’s throwing 98. It just ain’t going over,” Johnson said.
Asked about his elbow, Rodriguez said it felt “normal,” but wouldn’t say if the soreness had completely disappeared.
The Nationals could put Rodriguez on the disabled list for lingering issues with his elbow and start the season with Romero in the bullpen. If they stick with Rodriguez, Romero’s minor league contract’s opt out date isn’t until June 1.
The possibility of Rodriguez beginning on the disabled list was mentioned to a scout who watched the Nationals late in spring training. ”What?” he said. ”He’s throwing the [stuffing] out it!”
>>> Johnson will play Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper on Friday and evaluate how lingering minor injuries affect them. Harper is in the lineup despite a sore left thumb. Werth will play despite a sore left elbow, where he was hit with a pitch on Wednesday, despite complaining of lack of movement.
>>> Christian Garcia, who hasn’t thrown in six weeks since suffering a partially torn tendon in his throwing forearm, will again visit a Baltimore-based hand specialist on Sunday. If he is cleared, he will begin his throwing program on Monday. Garcia is on the 15-day disabled list, eligible to come off of it on April 6, but given how much time he has missed throwing he will need about a month to rebuild arm strength.
>>> Johnson is nearing a decision on who will be behind the plate for Monday’s season opener. Wilson Ramos hasn’t been told if he will play then. But there’s a potential clue in the fact that Kurt Suzuki caught opening day starter Stephen Strasburg’s last start on the minor league side in Viera on Wednesday.