Dave Nichols: What to do about Rodriguez?

I usually use this space to delve into something that’s caught my eye in the previous week of Nationals baseball. I try to examine whatever that might be using statistics, either the boxcar stats that come in the daily paper (you still read box scores, right?), or advanced stats, which really aren’t all that advanced (it’s still add, subtract, multiply and divide, just using some concepts you might not have thought about too much).

But this week, I’m going to forget the statistics and talk a little about player psychology. Things came to a head for Henry Rodriguez over the last week, suffering blow after blow by both opposing teams and fans of the Nats alike. Actually, that’s not exactly true. Rodriguez brought much of it upon himself, what with the inability to throw strikes and his penchant for missing the target altogether and uncorking what seemed like an endless string of wild pitches.

Fans are fed up with the “Wild Thing” act. Though he’s blown just three saves (I know, right?), every outing is a high-wire act. You just never know what you’re going to get out of Rodriguez. He can be downright filthy, as he was in his 10-pitch, three strikeout performance against Cincinnati on May 12, or the complete opposite of filthy as he was the very next night, throwing just 13 of his 28 pitches for strikes in allowing four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning.

In Monday’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia, Rodriguez might have hit rock bottom, as he threw a total of 11 pitches, just four for strikes.

Is something wrong with him physically? There have been rumors of a strained forearm, but that might just be looking for an excuse. Really, this is who he’s always been. He has a 100 mph fastball and nasty breaking ball, but lacks the ... something to be able to harness it every time out.

So why does manager Davey Johnson keep trotting him out there? He has to. As long as Rodriguez is on the roster, Johnson’s gotta keep running him out there, hoping that he either gets Good Henry or that the little light bulb finally goes off for Rodriguez and he figures out what’s been missing his entire career. The latter is a longshot, but you’ve got to give a guy with that talent the benefit of the doubt. It might be frustrating to fans that Johnson keeps playing Rodriguez, and might be even more frustrating that Johnson keeps backing his player up in the media.

But this is Johnson’s style. He’s always been a have-your-back manager. Players go to war for managers like that. Johnson has a history of wearing out his welcome in his managerial career, but it’s never been over wins and losses, or losing the room. Rather, it’s the ownership that has tired of his relentless dedication to his players, even before management. Has he mellowed with age? Surely. Is he ingrained with the Nats front office in a different manner that previous gigs? Absolutely.

But his managerial style hasn’t - and won’t - change. He’s got his player’s backs, until they are no longer his player. Then he’ll get the next guy’s.

Dave Nichols covers the Nationals for District Sports Page. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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