The Nationals acquired Henry Rodriguez this winter from the Oakland A’s tantalized by his fastball and hopeful about his control. Rodriguez could become a dominant, late-inning relief pitcher if he harnesses his fastball. The Nationals believed he will with enough conviction that they parted with Josh Willingham, their starting left fielder, in order to trade for him.
Rodriguez, stuck in his native Venezuela this spring for more than a week because of a visa issue, provided little optimism he would discover his control with his first Nationals appearance. Rodriguez faced five Florida Marlins during a 5-1 Nationals victory. He walked three of them, recorded one out and threw eight of 23 pitches for strikes. Still, given the circumstances, the Nationals remained hopeful.
“I think it was signs of rust,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “I’m sure he was not pleased with it, but I told him I was pleased with the way the ball came out of his hand. First outing. Get it out of the way and he’ll be better the next time.”
Last year, Rodriguez threw one fastball 103.8 miles per hour. He didn’t reach those heights today, mostly throwing some fastballs around 97 miles per hour. Through catcher Jesus Flores*, who translated, Rodriguez said he “didn’t feel 100 percent yet” because of his vis delay, but that he is “close to it.”
*That was actually a very cool moment. When Flores, 24, first came to the Nationals, he needed a teammate to translate for him when he did interviews.
Rodriguez received one tough break – Chris Coghlan hit a fly ball to left field to lead off his inning, and minor leaguer Eury Perez corkscrewed in the outfield trying to track it down before letting plop to the turf. So, after Omar Infante grounded out, “he could have had two outs and nobody on there,” Riggleman said. “It could have been a different inning.”
Instead, Rodriguez walked three consecutive batters, summoning pitching coach Steve McCatty from the dugout to yank Rodriguez in favor of Brian Broderick. Rodriguez said he felt no nerves, but maybe some rust. He felt that he was rotating his front shoulder too soon in his delivery, which caused balls to sail wide.
“He’s going to work on making adjustments,” Flores said. “And come back with a good outing.”