Despite all of that, Johnson still said this: “I’d still throw him tonight if the need arises.”
Over his previous two starts, Rodriguez had been Good Henry, retiring all seven hitters he faced over 2 1/3 innings. Johnson felt that Rodriguez’s outing today turned on one small moment. He thought Rodriguez had struck out Michael Bourn on a check swing. Instead, Bourn singled later in the at-bat.
Rodriguez’s main problem this season has been his inability to deal with adverse situations. Bourn stole on Rodriguez — “there was no doubt about that,” Johnson said. With Bourn on first, Rodriguez got ahead of Martin Prado, 1-2, and then finished a nine-pitch at-bat by walking him.
“That didn’t sit well,” Johnson said.
Bourn and Prado executed a double steal, Rodriguez giving Jesus Flores no chance to throw them out. Rodriguez got ahead of Heyward, then proceeded to unleash a 100-mph fastball all of 57 feet. The ball bounced past Flores and Bourn scooted home, putting the Braves up, 2-0.
Johnson had seen enough. Rodriguez threw one more ball, and then Johnson summoned Ryan Mattheus to finish the at-bat.
“When he’s good, he’s very good,” Johnson said. “When he’s not so good, he’s not so good. He was awful good for those nine saves. He kind of gets excited, tries to do too much or whatever. It’s as frustrating for him as it is for the rest of us.”
No matter how frustrating Rodriguez becomes, you can forget about the Nationals cutting ties with him. Rodriguez has put the Nationals in a tough place, in a pennant race with one reliever who is wholly unreliable.
But he has too much potential for the Nationals to designate him for assignment, to get nothing back for a 25-year-old reliever with a 100-mph fastball and two devastating breaking pitches. It may be tough to stomach on days like today, but Rodriguez will be with this team all year.
Aside from Rodriguez, Mattheus threw 30 pitches in 1 2/3 innings, which means he’ll be unavailable tonight.
Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez told Atlanta reporters that they would not use closer Craig Kimbrel in tonight’s game after he pitched last night and warmed up for Game 1. He also won’t use Kris Medlen or Eric O’Flaherty, Gonzalez said.