Standings, saves and strikeouts

If you’re the type who enjoys monitoring the division standings in May, you’ll be thrilled to know that the Nationals wake up this morning atop the National League East.

Washington’s win over the Pirates last night coupled with the Braves’ loss to Miami puts the Nats a half-game ahead of Atlanta in the division.

Who’s got the champagne?

If you’re the type who enjoys keeping track of all the latest with the Nationals’ closing situation, you’ll be interested to know that manager Davey Johnson had Ryan Mattheus warming in the bullpen to begin the ninth inning last night, even before the leadoff runner reached on an Ian Desmond error.

Despite the fact the Nats had a three-run lead, Johnson wasn’t going to take any chances with Henry Rodriguez, who has struggled lately but still has the support of his manager.

“I just had (Mattheus) up throwing for you guys, so you guys wouldn’t get real nervous,” Johnson joked to reporters last night. “When Desi booted that ball, my heart dropped a little bit. But Henry came right back and struck out the next hitter and the next guy got the double play. Very happy ending.”

Johnson said that even if the Nats were in a one-run game in the ninth last night, he would have gone to Rodriguez. He wants to find a way to build up the confidence of Rodriguez, and that starts by showing confidence in him by putting him out there.

“He always looks pretty good to me except when he’s not getting close to the plate,” Johnson said. “I think that’s when he goes into another gear and starts trying to do too much. That’s typical of all young players. You just have to have the confidence in them. I did, and the whole club does. Closing is not easy, especially that game.”

Rodriguez didn’t have his finest outing last night, but his stuff - even when it’s not at its best - is still pretty filthy. He sat 98-99 mph with his fastball and spun a couple nice curves.

Gio Gonzalez might have put it perfectly after the game, when he said, “The only one who can hurt Henry is himself.” Last night, Rodriguez didn’t hurt himself, and he earned his ninth save of the season.

If you’re the type who likes having strikeout pitchers in your starting rotation, you must love this Nats group.

After Gonzalez’s 10-strikeout performance last night, Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg now sit 1-2 in the NL when it comes to Ks with 60 and 59, respectively. What’s that say about this rotation?

“It means that we got some pretty good pitchers over here,” Johnson said. “When you miss bats, it keeps the pressure off your defense. If you miss a lot of bats, that tells me that there’s a lot of other ones aren’t centering on it. All five of them. They’ve been great.”

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