Right-hander Henry Rodriguez is starting to put together a few good outings and is gaining the confidence of manager Davey Johnson to put him in for longer stints.
Johnson said because of the operation on Rodriguez's elbow last Aug. 31, the rehab prevented the hard thrower from having a full offseason of workouts and games.
"He didn't have any winter ball," Johnson said. "He went through that arm operation. It is kind of a trust thing. The more he gets more comfortable and the more he feels stronger the better he will do."
On Tuesday night, Johnson opted to let Rodriguez go two innings to rest a weary Nationals bullpen. The gamble worked out.
"Last night was a prime example," Johnson said. "Our bullpen has kind of been overused really because of some starters exiting early and running up some high pitch counts. I really needed him to go two innings. I looked over at him on the bench before I made the decision and first thing he did was (giving me that signal for) 'One more'. I said, 'Oh, yeah, baby!' "
In his second frame, Rodriguez walked the first batter he faced and allowed a balk, but then had two strikeouts and a groundout to end the frame. It did get Johnson a bit nervous, so the manager got Ryan Mattheus up warming. He didn't want to do that.
"My trust isn't quite there," Johnson said. "But I'm getting more comfortable with (Rodriguez) out there."
Johnson said the outing shows that Rodriguez is finding ways to get out of jams, calming down and, more importantly, using secondary pitches to get guys out. He surprised Carlos Beltran with three changeups to get a strikeout to end the eighth.
"I think he is getting there," Johnson said. "I don't think he has to hump up to throw it high 90s mph. What I do like is he is coming in and pitching more. He is using more off speed stuff. He threw some great curveballs last night. The time before he used his changeup more.
He is nasty when he is getting more than one pitch over. He showed that in the nine saves he got last year."
So this first month of the season is an on-the-job ramp-up for Rodriguez.
"The previous spring, he was lights out," Johnson concluded. "This spring, he was so far behind that it was a struggle for him. Sometimes you just got to have patience to let that ability come out. And it is there."