With another extremely uncomfortable ninth-inning save opportunity almost thrown away, the Nationals and manager Davey Johnson need to make a decision.
Johnson told the media he would sleep on what happened to reliever Henry Rodriguez on Monday in Philadelphia. Without the literal save by Sean Burnett, Rodriguez was on the rocky road to his fourth blown save of the season.
It is obvious Rodriguez has the swing-and-miss stuff one covets in a closer, firing fastballs regularly at 101 mph. But his lack of command and control, with a penchant for inopportune walks and wild pitches, is not conducive to finishing off teams after eight innings of outstanding work by your starter and bullpen.
The Nationals are off to their best start since arriving in D.C., so it’s necessary to make this change to preserve the team’s early-season pennant hopes.
Closers Drew Storen (bone chip in elbow) and Brad Lidge (hernia) are still at least a few weeks from helping. Having Rodriguez getting out there and learning on the job is not a sacrifice the Nationals can afford if they have visions of keeping pace in the National League East.
So there is a quick and simple solution to help the Nationals bridge the gap, at least until Lidge returns from the disabled list.
Right-hander Craig Stammen, in the midst of his best season ever as a major league pitcher, should be moved into the closer role temporarily. He is extremely valuable as the team’s right-handed long reliever.
But the Nationals have a starter who is moving into the bullpen because Ross Detwiler has pitched so well - veteran right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who is now recovered from his hamstring injury and can take the place of Stammen as the long reliever from the right side.
The Nationals can place right-hander Ryan Mattheus on the disabled list as he recovers from plantar fasciitis and move Rodriguez into that seventh-inning role before setup man Tyler Clippard.
Everyone else, including Burnett, stays in their appropriate spots.
Johnson has said he wants his pitchers to be comfortable in their roles. Stammen is not a closer, but he is getting guys out at an amazing clip, and several times has come in with multiple runners on base and less than two outs and has done the job.
Similar to using Ian Desmond in the leadoff role when he is not your prototypical No. 1 hitter, this temporary adjustment is out of necessity. Stammen is not considered a closer by trade, but he has already made this type of move before and flourished.
Stammen started his career as a starter, but in 2010 and 2011 made 23 relief apppearances. He can do this. And the Nats will be able to restore some order to the ninth inning. Rodriguez also will be able to rebuild his confidence without free-falling back to the minors.
He is close. He is just not a closer yet.