VIERA, Fla. - It was just eight pitches, but for Henry Rodriguez and the Nationals, it was a big step in the right direction.
Rodriguez worked one inning in this afternoon's 16-10 loss, setting the Cardinals down in order in the sixth. The hard-throwing righty threw eight pitches, seven of which were strikes, in retiring J.R. Towles, Ryan Jackson and Greg Garcia.
This was Rodriguez's first game appearance since last July 31, after which he underwent surgery to clean up a bone spur in his throwing elbow. Manager Davey Johnson had planned to just have Rodriguez face one batter today, but he was convinced to let the right-hander go two more.
"I had told him five days ago, 'I'm going to take you real slow. Suave,' " Johnson said. "Maybe one hitter first time out. He said, 'OK, OK.' He started telling everybody, pitching coach, 'I want at least three hitters.' But he picked right up. He hadn't been out there in a while. He went right after them. It's good to have him back.
"He did it all last spring, and early in the year he was outstanding before I think things started flaring up in his elbow and stuff. But he was happy when he came in. I was happy. It's good to have him back."
Speaking to reporters through first baseman Chris Marrero, who he called over to translate, Rodriguez - who is very reserved and doesn't typically show much emotion around the media - couldn't help but give an understated smile as he described his outing.
"He felt like he wanted to feel and he thanks God for everything. He just says it felt great," Marrero said. "He was waiting for this day with all the time that he missed last year. He's just been working hard to get to this point and he's finally happy that it's here."
His fastball sat around 96 mph, according to a scout, which indicates that Rodriguez still had something left in the tank. He admitted as much after the game, saying that he still has a little more work to do before he's at full strength.
"He said he still feels like there's something left, but he feels great," Marrero said.
"He felt like his old self, like the old Henry, and he said he felt great. Nothing abnormal."
Rodriguez threw seven fastballs and two sliders, and pumped a first-pitch strike to all three batters he faced. If he's able to work ahead in the count in games of significance, Rodriguez could be incredibly tough to face not only because of the velocity at which he works, but because of his devastating secondary pitches.