The Nationals made a late rotation change this weekend, electing not to start Tommy Milone as planned Saturday night against the Marlins and instead promote Jefry Rodriguez from Triple-A. The rationale? Rodriguez had been on a roll - he had an 0.83 ERA over his last four starts, split between Syracuse and Washington - and Milone could prove more valuable as a much-needed long reliever in the bullpen.
A lot of things didn’t go right for the Nats during their 7-5, 10-inning loss. But the decision to start Rodriguez wasn’t one of them. The right-hander pitched quite well and put his team in position to win.
Through his first five innings Saturday, Rodriguez had allowed only two runs on three hits, his pitch count a highly manageable 69.
“I felt great out there today,” the rookie said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez.
Rodriguez even contributed at the plate, singling in the bottom of the third and then scoring on Trea Turner’s homer. That hit left the lanky, 6-foot-8 hurler 2-for-9 at the plate in the major leagues.
“I like hitting a lot,” he said. “Especially when you have a manager here that gives you confidence and tells you go out there and swing it. So I enjoy hitting.”
Manager Davey Martinez may have shown a bit too much confidence in Rodriguez as a hitter, though. With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Martinez let Rodriguez bat for himself with one out and a runner on second. He grounded out, and the Nationals wound up stranding the runner in scoring position.
The thinking: Rodriguez was cruising on the mound, his pitch count was low and the Nats bullpen has no shortage of issues right now. But when Rodriguez gave up back-to-back singles to J.T. Realmuto and Brian Anderson to open the sixth, he immediately was pulled in favor of lefty Tim Collins.
“I really thought when he went out there he was still pretty strong,” Martinez said. “Two pretty good hitters get a couple hits, we decided to make the move then. But he did well, he really did.”
The Nationals haven’t announced a plan yet for Rodriguez beyond Saturday’s game. If Stephen Strasburg returns from the disabled list to start Tuesday against the Phillies, they won’t need a fifth starter again until next weekend, so Rodriguez could be sent back to Syracuse or remain here and possibly be available out of the bullpen.
Whatever the immediate future holds, Rodriguez is beginning to establish himself as a viable option for the club to consider, having made some significant strides over the course of the season.
“I think the biggest difference there is, before, I used to like to just battle with my fastball a lot,” he said. “Now I’m mixing in my pitches more, using my off-speed more and getting more comfortable and confident with those off-speed pitches.”