“I couldn’t tell you because I knew it’s something I’ve had for a while,” he said in his most extensive comments about the injury since surgery. “I couldn’t tell you if it ended up affecting me. I don’t know.”
Rodriguez took the diagnosis of the source of his pain and timing hard. He wanted to play down the stretch and in the playoffs with his teammates. He rehabbed quietly in the mornings at Nationals Park. He didn’t pick up a ball again until November. Over the winter, he spent time with his wife and children in his native Santa Barbara, Venezuela. He lifted, ran and threw.
The discomfort in his elbow, Rodriguez said, is gone. He encountered a brief setback when he felt some arm tightness when he threw during spring training. The Nationals went slow with him and finally inserted him into a game on Friday. He fired 97 mph fastballs with ease, using only eight pitches to get three outs against the St. Louis Cardinals. “I feel like new,” he said.
His wife and children were in the stands at Space Coast Stadium when he pitched for the first time since surgery. The following morning, he bounced around the clubhouse with a broad grin across his face.
“I’ve seen him calmer and in talking to him, he tells me he’s happy and at peace, and that’s most important for him,” said catcher Wilson Ramos, a fellow Venezuelan. “He has to keep his mind relaxed and do his job.”
Rodriguez pitched again on Monday, notching two quick outs before giving up a single and hitting a batter. Johnson yanked him from the game because the Nationals want to keep him on a low pitch count for now until he is soon placed on a regular workload.
Rodriguez thinks only about what lies in front of him. His time away from pitching in games, he said, helped him get a better sense of his delivery and body. His goals for next season are to stay healthy and help the Nationals win. He isn’t worried about his future if he struggles.
“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody,” he said. “I just have to feel healthy. And being healthy, the rest will take care of itself. The work will speak for itself.”