“He hasn’t cried uncle yet,” Johnson said. “He’s pretty strong. I want them to cry uncle. I like to not overwork, but I love to overwork my closer. I know it’s a good thing when all of sudden they’re saying, ‘Can you get me a day off?’ It means he’s getting a lot of work and we’re winning a lot of ballgames.”
Rodriguez said his arm felt good. Over the past three days, he has not been overtaxed, throwing 12, 13 and 15 pitches in three scoreless innings. He’s allowed one hit and one walk, striking out four while facing only 10 batters.
Johnson’s main concern in the bullpen is getting Sean Burnett into more games. Johnson has ordered Burnett to warm up several times this year without sending him into the game. Burnett has not pitched since April 27, and Johnson blamed himself for mismanaging Burnett.
“I’m usually pretty good about handling my ’pen,” Johnson said. “I haven’t done a very good job with him. We’ve been one hitter away it seems like for a week where I’ve wanted him, and then we got out of it.”
Burnett has appeared in nine of the Nationals’ 26 games. Since he’s warmed up so often, Johnson has avoided using him for fear of over-taxing him. “He’s probably pitched more ‘innings’ than anyone other than the starters,” Johnson said.
Burnett has not publicly complained, but Johnson can sense he’s miffed at the usage. One day this week, Johnson said, he walked into his office with Burnett’s jersey laid across his desk, a bag of sunflower seeds on top.
“I’ve not handled that situation well,” Johnson said.
Whatever Johnson did last night worked. The bullpen was an overlooked factor in the Nationals’ 4-3, 11-inning win, with five different relievers throwing a scoreless inning. Ryan Perry, in his second major league appearance this year, faced the middle of the Phillies order in the top of the 11th inning and retired Placido Polanco, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino on three straight groundballs.