JUPITER, Fla. - Henry Rodriguez will be given every opportunity to work through his command issues, manager Davey Johnson said yesterday after another rough outing from the hard-throwing right-hander.
“He’s a power arm and he hasn’t pitched a lot. ... He didn’t pitch winter ball,” Johnson said when asked about Rodriguez’s struggles. “Once he’s healthy, I need to go to him more, try to wear him down and get him comfortable going out there. It’s just a matter of him getting enough innings under his belt this spring.”
Rodriguez, who usually pitches in winter ball, took the offseason off after undergoing August surgery to remove a bone spur in his throwing elbow. A 2012 season that began with promise - Rodriguez began the season as the Nationals’ closer with Drew Storen sidelined by elbow surgery - ended with him on the disabled list.
He was brought along slowly in camp, with the Nationals concerned because of tightness in his right arm. So far, Rodriguez has worked 5 2/3 innings in six relief outings, allowing three runs, five hits and walking five.
Rodriguez entered Wednesday’s game in the ninth inning with the Nats ahead 7-4 and struggled to find the plate while recording his first save of the spring.
He walked two batters, yielded a run and allowed the Marlins to get the tying run to the plate three times. Several of his early pitches were so high and out of the strike zone that pitching coach Steve McCatty had to visit the mound to talk to his reliever. Two ground balls that resulted in bang-bang played helped the righty out.
As has been the case with Storen, Johnson thinks the solution to Rodriguez’s woes is more work. Over the next week, Johnson plans to pitch him every other day, even throwing in a few back-to-back appearances.
Sending Rodriguez to the minors to work through his command problems isn’t possible. He is out of minor league options and would need to pass through waivers in order to be farmed out. Because he throws 100 mph, Rodriguez would be quickly claimed by a team hopeful of turning him into a reliable arm at the back of its bullpen.
“It’s always the power pitching that comes along (slowly),” Johnson said. “First, he’s getting his arm in shape. He threw, but he wasn’t allowed to (throw bullpens) for a long time that he’s just behind other guys. But he’s got such great stuff, he’ll catch up.”