The Henry Rodriguez dilemma

So much has gone right recently.

Since the Nationals’ disastrous 11-10 extra-inning loss to the Braves (one that some seemed to feel would instantly end the Nats’ season), Davey Johnson’s bunch has won five of its last six games.

In that six-game span, there aren’t many flaws to pick at. But one negative jumps off the stat sheet at you.

Over Henry Rodriguez’s last two appearances, he’s faced five batters. The result: a hit, four walks and two runs scored.

Yesterday, he came into a situation which was as pitcher-friendly as can be. The Nationals had a 5-1 lead in the eighth, and Rodriguez was called on to face the No. 7, 8 and 9 hitters in the Mets order. That’s a low-leverage spot, all right.

The Nats righty threw 11 pitches. Eight were balls. Johnson slowly trudged from the dugout after the second walk Rodriguez issued and got the baseball from his 25-year-old reliever. He’d seen enough.

“It was just one of those days,” Johnson said after the game. “With Henry, it’s kind of hit or miss. Nobody hits him, but if he doesn’t get it over, it doesn’t matter. They’re still going to get on base.”

Over Rodriguez’s 26 innings this season, he’s allowed 20 walks and thrown 10 wild pitches. His ERA has risen to 5.19 after yesterday’s outing, and fans’ frustration levels have risen with it.

But this situation isn’t as simple as just the numbers. Rodriguez is an incredible talent, one which doesn’t come around very often. He has a fastball which makes major league hitters wake up in a cold sweat, a hard 90-plus mph changeup that keeps guys honest and a curveball that buckles knees and leaves hitters walking back to the dugout shaking their heads.

Rodriguez has the stuff to become an elite late-inning reliever. And the Nationals don’t want to give up on him too early.

The crux of the problem is that Rodriguez doesn’t have any options remaining, meaning he can’t be sent to the minors without other teams having a chance to claim him off waivers. On the other hand, the Nationals also can’t trust Rodriguez in tight spots right now, and as we get closer to the postseason, it will get tougher to keep a spot reserved for him on the 25-man roster.

Most Nationals fans remember what happened with Joel Hanrahan a few years ago. GM Mike Rizzo sure does.

To this day, Rizzo regrets letting Hanrahan get away. The Nats knew Hanrahan had promise, but cut ties with the right-handed reliever after he posted a 7.71 ERA in 23 games in 2009, trading him to the Pirates in the deal that netted the Nationals Sean Burnett. The last two seasons, as a member of the Pirates, Hanrahan has made the All-Star team.

The Nats will have tough roster moves to come once Jayson Werth and Chad Tracy return from their rehab assignments. They’ll need all hands on deck over the next couple months as they make the push towards a playoff spot. But despite all the wildness and bouts of complete ineffectiveness, the Nationals are not willing to give up on Rodriguez yet. They don’t want to end up watching him thrive elsewhere, as they are with Hanrahan.

“There’s another day tomorrow. I’m not afraid to run him out there,” Johnson said of Rodriguez. “He’s been spectacular for us, and at times not so good. Next time out, I’ll probably get spectacular.”

If Rodriguez isn’t spectacular, however, who knows how long the Nationals will be able to wait for him to come around.

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