MILWAUKEE - Before Tuesday night, the Nationals hadn't used reliever Henry Rodriguez with a lead smaller than seven runs, and that appearance - Friday against the Orioles - was the only time he'd pitched with a lead this year.
Manager Jim Riggleman went to Rodriguez with a one-run lead in the eighth, though, and even though Rodriguez gave up two hits and a walk, taking the loss in a 7-6 defeat against the Brewers, Riggleman sounded committed to going back to Rodriguez in a similar situation.
"I think what we've been trying to do as of late is have Drew (Storen) in the ninth and in the seventh and eighth, Rodriguez and (Tyler) Clippard in any particular order," Riggleman said. "We're trying to go 7-8-9, in an ideal situation, and have (Sean) Burnett get the necessary outs like he did yesterday with a left-hander. We're moving toward that, and I think we're getting closer to it, but it didn't work out yesterday."
Rodriguez, the centerpiece of the Josh Willingham trade last December, has the kind of electric stuff - a 100-mph fastball and hard slider in the high 80s - that makes the Nationals think he could be a setup man or a closer. But after he threw nine strikes in 27 pitches May 8, Riggleman had said he wanted to use Rodriguez in low-pressure situations. On May 12, he asked Doug Slaten to pitch three innings - more than he'd ever thrown in the majors - in an 11-inning loss to the Braves, and if Slaten had gotten through the 11th, Riggleman had said he was planning to use right-hander Brian Broderick instead of Rodriguez.
Broderick was designated for assignment two days later, though, and in the last 10 days, Rodriguez has apparently become the Nationals' preferred choice as a setup man.
"I think (Burnett) is throwing the ball great, and the numbers don't indicate how well I think he's throwing," Riggleman said. "But to cut to the chase, I've got a guy throwing 100 miles an hour down there, and ready to pitch the eighth inning. He's going to pitch. They're going to have to beat him instead of a left-hander. Guys like (Rickie) Weeks and (Casey) McGehee and these guys, they're going to thank me for not bringing Rodriguez in, you know?"