Johnson on closer role: “I’m looking at alternatives”

PHILADELPHIA - Davey Johnson has stood by Henry Rodriguez through his three blown saves, handfuls of wild pitches and bunches of baserunners allowed.

But after tonight’s performance, in which Rodriguez was pulled after putting the tying runners in scoring position and throwing two wild pitches over 1/3 of an inning, Johnson finally said he’s considering a change when it comes to the closer role.

“I’m going to sleep on it, but I’m looking at alternatives,” Johnson said.

There aren’t any clear-cut options behind Rodriguez right now with Drew Storen and Brad Lidge both on the DL, but Johnson said he has confidence in his bullpen as a whole and might rely on multiple guys to chip in during save situations.

“It may be just by committee and who’s rested at the time and goes ahead and pitches the ninth instead of the eighth,” Johnson said.

Rodriguez came into a 2-0 ballgame tonight and was set to face the 6-7-8 hitters in Philadelphia’s order.

The righty was wild from his first pitch, sending two errant tosses to the backstop during a four-pitch walk to leadoff hitter John Mayberry Jr. Rodriguez got Freddy Galvis to fly out to right, but then fired a wild pitch which moved Mayberry Jr. to second.

Mike Fontenot singled to left, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate, and then another wild pitch (Rodriguez’s eighth of the season, most in the majors) allowed Fontenot to move up to second. That’s when Johnson finally had enough, bringing Sean Burnett out of the bullpen to try and clean up Rodriguez’s mess.

Henry_Rodriguez-taken-out-of-game-sidebar.jpgFor the second time in the span of a week, Burnett saved the day, getting out of a jam he inherited from Rodriguez. Burnett got a sacrifice fly to provide the second out of the ninth and retired Placido Polanco on a lineout to end the game.

“Henry’s either lights out, or sometimes it’s exciting,” Johnson said. “Again, Burnett did a heck of a job bailing him out.”

Rodriguez is still 9-for-12 in save opportunities, but he also got a loss when he entered a tie game in the bottom of the ninth in New York and gave up the winning run. He now has left the game twice before even completing the ninth inning.

As for Burnett, his ERA drops to 0.71 after this outing. He has two saves and a 15-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 12 2/3 innings. He’ll likely be one of the main guys called on if Johnson does indeed go with a closer-by-committee.

“I’m just going to do what they ask me to do, the way it’s always been,” Burnett said. “I’m just trying to help the team out. Henry, he’s been good all year. He’s had a couple hiccups the last few weeks. But anytime you can help your team out, bail him out and help get a win, that’s what you look to do.”

The guys in the Nats’ clubhouse clearly feel bad for Rodriguez, who takes the rough outings very hard. The 25-year-old was shown on TV with a stone-cold look on his face while sitting in the dugout after being pulled in the ninth, and he left the clubhouse postgame before reporters entered.

“You’re talking to a guy that’s made 40 errors in a season before,” shortstop Ian Desmond said, indicating Rodriguez isn’t the only one to deal with such issues. “You know what I mean? Seriously. He’s never been a closer before on our team. He’s got to learn. It’s not easy coming in in the ninth inning. Ask anybody. There’s closers that have been in the big leagues a long time (that are struggling). Look at, no disrespect, (Heath) Bell in Miami. He’s struggling with it too. It’s not an easy job.”

It sure isn’t. There are a lot of very talented big leaguers who can attest to that. But it’s also a job that Henry Rodriguez might not have anymore.

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