Henry Rodriguez is an enigma. The right-handed reliever has mounds of potential with his fireball fastball and electric stuff. But, after parts of four seasons in the major leagues, he is still plagued with episodes of wildness and control issues. His struggles last season were cast in a different light when, while on the disabled list, he complained of elbow pain in August and underwent surgery to clean up a bone spur.
Entering spring training, Rodriguez has much to prove and overcome. While the Nationals have stuck with Rodriguez because they believe in his potential, he is out of options. He will be part of a lively competition for seven spots in the bullpen knowing that a designation for assignment would mean his release — all while returning from surgery on his throwing elbow.
“I just have to do the same thing,” said Rodriguez in Spanish, seated at his locker on the day pitchers and catchers report to Viera. “I don’t have to worry about anything else. Just do my job, nothing else.”
The offseason addition of closer Rafael Soriano didn’t just change the roles of Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, but it added another arm to a bullpen that already seemed set. Rodriguez will be fighting for a spot in a bullpen heavy on right-handers and with relievers who have better grips on their control.
Rodriguez, 25, arrived in Viera on Monday afternoon with his wife and children, and reported to the spring training facility on Tuesday. He sat quietly at his locker on Tuesday morning, sporting a new haircut that featured shaved lines on the side of his head and with a wrap on his right elbow. He then ran sprints on the warning track of the outfield under the watchful eye of trainer Lee Kuntz.
After his surgery, Rodriguez first picked up a baseball in late November. He hasn’t thrown a bullpen session yet, he said, and won’t until spring training is underway. He said he took advantage of his time away from the mound to lift weights, run and spend time with his family. His elbow, he said, feels good.
“Everything is fine, thank God,” he said.