Johnson on Rodriguez: “As far as I’m concerned, he’s been great”

Given the two blown saves Henry Rodriguez has put up over his last four outings and the spectacular manner in which the Nationals’ closer has lost those games, manager Davey Johnson has been asked whether Rodriguez will continue to get the ball in save situations.

He got that question after yesterday’s 9-6 loss, in which Rodriguez allowed a walk-off grand slam to Joey Votto, and stated that he’ll stick with the 25-year-old righty.

Today, Johnson was asked whether he thinks Rodriguez’s dramatically different home/road splits (he’s allowed one hit and no runs in eight innings at home, compared to eight hits and eight runs in 7 1/3 innings on the road) indicate that the road environment factors into his success.

“No, I don’t,” Johnson replied simply, before taking the Rodriguez discussion in another direction. “I had a question the other day: ‘Is he still my closer?’ Yes, he’s my closer. He’s been very successful at closing, in a job that’s not that easy. As far as I’m concerned, he’s been great.

“There’s going to be a little growing pains. I mean, even the best ... I mean, (Jonathan) Papelbon. He gave up the three-run homer to a guy that was a rookie, and I think they’re going to still close with him. Here’s a guy that just last year, I think he got his first save in the big leagues. And this year he’s been outstanding. He had an outstanding spring. I’m not going to answer these questions every time there’s a little blip on the radar screen. Is he my closer? Yes, he’s my closer. I have all the confidence in the world.”

Henry_Rodriguez-taken-out-of-game-sidebar.jpgWhile he’s blown up in a big way on a few occasions, Rodriguez has converted eight of his 11 save chances and has been absolutely overpowering at times. It’s also important to remember that Rodriguez wouldn’t be in this spot if not for injuries to Drew Storen and Brad Lidge, and he’s still relatively young.

That’s likely why Johnson has so passionately defended Rodriguez. Johnson picked up steam as he discussed Rodriguez today and said he plans to continue going to the Venezuelan-born pitcher until he announces otherwise.

“We’re good,” Johnson said. “So don’t be asking those questions to me no more. If there’s something that’s going to change on (the closer situation), I’ll volunteer it, OK? But he has done a great job.”

Lidge, who is rehabbing from hernia surgery, said he was watching yesterday’s game from home and found himself yelling at the TV late in the game when the Nats were getting into trouble.

What was he yelling?

“Get the guys out before Votto gets up,” Lidge said with a smile.

As a guy who has been through both the highs and lows involved with being a closer, Lidge plans to talk to Rodriguez and will offer some advice on how best to battle through these issues.

“I really like Henry a lot, and I’m very confident that he’s going to be just fine,” Lidge said. “But he’s young, and he’s young in this role. And those are two things that are extremely difficult right now, just trying to get in there. To be a great closer, you have to have great control and great stuff. And he’s got great stuff, and at times he’s got great control. But I think one of the hardest things to learn is, his stuff doesn’t have to be as good as it is. So that’s something obviously we’ll talk about, taking your foot off the gas pedal. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do because your whole life you’re trained to go as hard as you can.

“And with him, everyone’s so impressed with how hard he throws and how hard everything is, it’s hard to step back sometimes. And when you’re young, it’s really hard to make that adjustment. But I’m confident that he’ll be able to do it. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. I still believe for him, the sky’s the limit for what he wants to do in his career.”

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