BALTIMORE - The circumstances that led to Henry Rodriguez getting three innings of work Friday night were unusual; the Nationals broke out for 17 runs, the most they've scored since coming to Washington, but starter Jason Marquis was gone after four innings, as manager Jim Riggleman told the pitcher at the end of the fourth he didn't want him to face Matt Wieters and Luke Scott again, after both players had ripped RBI base hits off him the first time.
The Nationals scored six runs in the fifth, but Riggleman had made his decision by then. And Marquis, he said, "was about as mad as I've ever seen a ballplayer."
Though both Marquis and Riggleman said afterward this wouldn't lead to lingering bitterness, the decision did give the Nationals a chance to look at Rodriguez in a low-pressure situation. And the fireballing reliever responded with his best work of the year.
He threw three scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and striking out three. And most importantly, he controlled his pitches, throwing 29 of 41 for strikes and going without a walk.
"It's probably the best he's thrown," Riggleman said. "He's had a couple other games where he was close to that, but he was real good."
Rodriguez wasn't pitching in a close game, of course, and his performance would probably be more significant if he'd been protecting a smaller lead. But it's important for the Nationals to see him throw strikes and control his stuff in low-pressure situations so they can build him into higher-leverage spots. They envisioned him as a possible setup man or closer when they got him from Oakland in the Josh Willingham trade last winter, and he'd have to throw strikes consistently enough to get himself into that kind of role.
What he did on Friday night was a step in that direction.