Rodriguez battling elbow soreness, Harper good to play (with lineups)

VIERA, Fla. - You never know what information will come out of an interview session with Davey Johnson.

Today, reporters learned that former Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger never wore a cup. Don’t ask how we got there.

We also learned that Henry Rodriguez has hit a bit of a snag in his spring throwing progression, and the question now is whether it will at all affect his status for opening day.

Rodriguez will not pitch this afternoon against the Braves after experiencing a little elbow soreness, Johnson said. The hard-throwing right-hander had surgery last August to clean up a bone spur in his right elbow.

Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo both said that the soreness isn’t anything they’re concerned about, and rather is a byproduct of Rodriguez working back from the surgery and not having taken part in winter ball.

“It’s probably a little inflammation from throwing a lot,” Johnson said. “I was expecting that earlier. ... I don’t think it’s anything major. I don’t even know if he’s on an anti-inflammatory. Probably going to take it easy with him today and see how he feels tomorrow. Maybe he can throw a bullpen Tuesday and see how he is. It’s not something I’m going to rush him. Just go by how he feels.”

The Nats will monitor Rodriguez closely over these next couple days, and they hope that he’ll respond well from playing catch today and could get back on a mound shortly.

If Rodriguez needs more time, however, there’s a chance it could jeopardize his availability for opening day. This is looking more than a week down the road and is strictly hypothetical at this point, but in such a case, the Nationals could turn to one of two left-handers, Fernando Abad or J.C. Romero, to round out the bullpen if Rodriguez needs to open the season on the disabled list.

Romero was signed to a minor league deal on Friday and has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game for the Nats, although he did throw on the minor league side yesterday. Asked whether Romero could be an option to open the season with the Nats, Rizzo smiled.

“Let me see him pitch before we put any time constraints on it,” Rizzo said.

Romero has struggled to stick with a team over the last couple of seasons as he’s tried to work back from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow suffered in 2009, but he pitched well for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

“Our scouts saw a guy whose velocity has gotten back to when he was a successful left-handed reliever, so that was part of it,” Rizzo said. “He’s an experienced guy that knows how to get out major league hitters, and he looks in great shape and healthy. His stuff is really playing. That’s what (our scouts) saw.”

Meanwhile, Bryce Harper is back in the Nationals’ lineup today after missing a game with a sore left thumb.

Harper got jammed by a pitch two days ago against the Tigers and needed to leave the game. His thumb was acting up a bit yesterday, leading Johnson to scratch him from the lineup, but Harper said with the exception of a little soreness, he feels better today.

“I’m gonna play, so it’s all good,” Harper said this morning. “Whatever.”

Harper took batting practice with a foam insert around his thumb in order to add some padding and protection, but he said he was uncertain whether he’d use the insert during the game today. Harper is used to tucking his bat handle deep into the pocket between his thumb and index finger, and said it felt a little uncomfortable having some new padding there when holding a bat.

Here are the lineups for today’s game:

For the Nats
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
P Jordan Zimmermann

For the Braves
SS Andrelton Simmons
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
3B Juan Francisco
CF Reed Johnson
C Matt Pagnozzi
P Kris Medlen

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