Elbow soreness behind him, Rodriguez will pitch tonight (plus rotation notes)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Yesterday morning, Davey Johnson reported that Henry Rodriguez was dealing with some soreness in his right elbow, which the Nationals right-hander had operated on last August to clean up a bone spur.

Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo both said they weren't worried about Rodriguez's health, but any time you're talking about elbow soreness for a pitcher, especially one just seven months removed from surgery on said elbow, you wonder if any further issues could follow.

For now, however, it appears Rodriguez is just fine. The soreness that he felt in the elbow was the result of a trainer stretching him out, and Rodriguez reported no discomfort while playing catch yesterday. As a result, Johnson plans to use Rodriguez out of the bullpen tonight.

"He says he's fine," Johnson said. "I'm going to run him out there. He needs the work."

Rodriguez got off to a solid start this spring, allowing just one run, one hit, one walk and one hit batter over his first four appearances, spanning 3 2/3 innings.

His last three games, however, Rodriguez has struggled. He's surrendered single runs in each of those three appearances, walking six batters, hitting another and allowing a hit, as well. But Johnson sees this as part of the normal progression for some pitchers in spring, particularly those working back from injury.

"When you miss half your season and you miss winter ball, a lot of it's just catch-up," Johnson said. "And a power arm takes a lot longer to get to where you're built up to what I call a base, so you feel like you can throw maximum speed without maximum effort. A lot of times, it takes all of spring for them to get there, and consequently their command suffers. But I think he's a lot closer."

Johnson wants to get Rodriguez in at least two more games before the Nats break camp, meaning he'll pitch in one of two of the remaining games after tonight.

The Nationals also plan to get newly signed left-hander J.C. Romero in a game either today or tomorrow.

"From what I saw (in the World Baseball Classic), I think he's ready to go," Johnson said. "But I'd like to get him in a couple games down here."

Johnson got wind of Chris Young's comments to reporters yesterday, ones implying that if Young had a big league offer on the table from another team, he would opt out of his minor league deal with the Nationals.

"I don't blame him for that," Johnson said, noting that barring injury, there isn't place for Young on the Nats' big league roster. "I thought that was the story all along."

Johnson said that after today, there won't be an opportunity for Young to make another spring start with the Nats. His next scheduled day to pitch is March 30, so Young could theoretically wait until then to determine whether to opt out of his deal with the Nats and sign elsewhere, or remain with the Nationals and get work in minor league games.

Here's how the Nats' rotation will line up the rest of spring:

* Dan Haren is scheduled to pitch tomorrow against the Marlins at Jupiter
* Ross Detwiler will start the home half of split-squad games Wednesday (with the other starter TBD)
* Stephen Strasburg will pitch in a minor league game Wednesday
* Gio Gonzalez will start the Grapefruit League finale Thursday against the Mets
* Jordan Zimmermann will start the Nats' exhibition game against the Yankees on Friday

You can tell based on that alignment how things will play out to open the regular season. If you can't, start with Strasburg, and work down the list from there.

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