Alex Brandon/AP Zach Duke (Alex Brandon/AP)

After long layoffs for both relievers, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson called on Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez to pitch in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, and both fired scoreless innings. Because the Nationals have primarily faced right-handed hitting teams, Duke last pitched on April 5, his lone appearance of the season. And because of his inconsistency and health, Rodriguez last pitched on Sunday.

Johnson, who has relied heavily on the other five relievers, finally called for both to enter the game in crucial spots with a 2-1 deficit. Duke, a left-handed long reliever, pitched the seventh inning in relief of starter Stephen Strasburg and faced three right-handed batters. He completed the 1-2-3 inning in 12 pitches.

Instead of having Duke return for the eighth inning, in which left-handed Jason Heyward was up first, Johnson turned to the right-handed Rodriguez because he prefers to keep relievers fresh by asking them to throw one complete inning. “If [Rodriguez is] throwing the ball right, I don’t care if it’s right or left,” Johnson said. “If you look at the numbers on Duke, I mean, they’re not as good.”

Rodriguez induced a flyout from Heyward but then walked Justin Upton and Evan Gattis on 11 pitches. He escaped the jam by striking out Dan Uggla on a wicked curveball that induced an awkward swing. On his final pitch, a 99-mph fastball, he got Juan Francisco to ground out.

Rodriguez said he kept up his work in his bullpen sessions and conditioning during the six-day layoff. The tightness in his arm that slowed him this spring has improved, as has his right elbow, which was operated on last August. “It’s getting better,” he said.

Following his outing, Johnson said he still considers Rodriguez a work in progress in building his arm strength, consistency and health. Rodriguez said he felt fine and hoped to return to a normal schedule soon. “Little by little I’ll get my position back and they’ll start using me more,” he said.