When general manager Mike Rizzo first presented the idea to Davey Martinez that Fernando Rodney was available, the skipper knew they should take a look at the veteran closer.
“I was excited. The minute he got let go it was a conversation that Rizzo and I had,” Martinez said. “They said they’d look into it and said, ‘Hey, we are going to sign him.’”
Rodney had just been let go after a rough start to the 2019 campaign with the Oakland Athletics. In 17 games, Rodney had allowed 15 runs on 20 hits with 12 walks. His 9.42 ERA was the worst in his 17-year career.
Oakland lost confidence in the hurler. They started to use him more sparingly instead of every other day, or even back-to-back opportunities, like he was used to earlier in his career.
The A’s released the veteran May 28. The Nationals signed him in June 4. At that time the Nats were desperate for bullpen relief, especially a pitcher who could take over their greatest weakness: the eighth inning.
Martinez had a conversation with the pitcher he had known for years.
“I told him, ‘Get yourself right, get going, and then as soon as you get called up believe me you’re going to pitch,’” Martinez said. He knew if Rodney could get back to the effectiveness that led him to 327 saves in his career, he was going to pitch in D.C.
“I’ve known Fernando and I know when I talk to him he said with the A’s he just didn’t pitch,” the skipper said. “He sat 10 days and they put him in that situation, that’s just rough.”
Rodney struggled in Oakland. It was not all just because he sat. The A’s employed him every other day at times and he still struggled. Rodney feels the same as he did when he started the season with the Athletics. But part of the tempo for a pitcher is to keep getting up and pitching the next day even when you have bad outings.
“It’s nothing different. I think I feel good,” Rodney explained. “That’s more important. I feel good in Oakland. I didn’t have too many chances to show off, to improve myself on the mound. I decided I’m not going to help you every five whole days because that’s not me. My ability to pitch (more than) every four or five days. I’m more effective. That’s what I’ve been doing all my career.”
Now he feels the frequency of use in D.C. is helping him return to the confidence he had when he was on back in the day.
“They were not using me the way they were supposed to do,” Rodney said of his time in Oakland. “That’s changed. Everything changed.”
Another reason Rodney feels comfortable with the Nationals is because of his relationship with Martinez. In those 17 seasons, Martinez got to know Rodney well in Tampa Bay and Chicago.
“I think he knew a little bit about my career,” Rodney said. “He knows when I’m pitching where he can use me because when we was in Tampa we have a lot of fun. He know what kind of person I am. I’m very hard-working guy. Dedicated guy. When he was on the Chicago Cubs we have a chance to be with him and Joe (Maddon) again. Same guy.”
Martinez knows how good Rodney is when he is rolling and believes the reliever still has something left to contribute, even at 42 years of age.
“I’ve known from past with him never have to ask him if he’s available,” Martinez said. “When he’s not available, he’ll come tell me. And I know that.”
Rodney on his talks with Martinez: “I come here and I feel comfortable. Because I know he could say ‘hey, Rodney, you are in the game’. So I prepare myself to be in the game. Because I now have chance to pitch.”
Now with the Nationals, Rodney demonstrated Friday his command has returned to where he can dictate to the hitters better than he did during his Oakland struggles.
With one out in the eighth inning against the Phillies, he walked Rhys Hoskins. Facing Jay Bruce, he quickly got ahead of the hitter 0-2. A couple of changeups and a couple of fastballs and Bruce had worked the count to 2-2. Rodney then delivered another changeup. Bruce grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“I’ve been around this league for a long time,” Rodney said. “They know me. This kind of hitting, I don’t want to stay in the same spot. I have to move the ball around to these guys. Change their eyes. That’s what I try to do (Friday night).”