Barring a change, Rodriguez will grab final spot in Nats bullpen

VIERA, Fla. - Yesterday, we learned that both Henry Rodriguez and J.C. Romero would make the trip to D.C. with the Nationals following this afternoon’s Grapefruit League finale, leaving the two relievers in the mix for the final spot in the Nats’ bullpen.

Today, manager Davey Johnson said that unless Rodriguez suffers some kind of injury when he appears in tomorrow’s exhibition game against the Yankees at Nats Park, the flame-throwing right-hander would get that final bullpen spot, with Romero going to Triple-A Syracuse.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Johnson said.

Rodriguez has struggled with his command this spring, walking 10 and hitting two batters in 8 2/3 innings of work. He’s posted a 4.15 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .107 average, showing great offspeed stuff at times, but the control issues continue to pop up. Over his last five appearances, Rodriguez has walked nine hitters.

“But I think he’s closer. He’s making progress,” Johnson said. “Even with his wildness, his numbers are still pretty good, if you compare him with everyone else.”

In his two spring appearances, Romero has walked one and allowed a single over two scoreless innings. The 36-year-old was signed to a minor league deal last Friday.

After Romero’s first Grapefruit League appearance, Johnson declared the left-hander “ready,” but with Rodriguez out of options, the Nats would need to either put the right-hander on the 25-man roster or place him on the disabled list to start the season in order to keep him in the organization. If they attempted to pass Rodriguez through waivers, they’d risk another team claiming the talented but inconsistent 26-year-old.

Rodriguez had elbow surgery last August and got a late start this spring, which Johnson has used as reasons to explain his inconsistency.

“I’ve been pretty clear that power arms take longer,” Johnson said, “and especially with Henry’s case, missing the last half of the year and didn’t have winter ball, a lot of times that’s a psychological thing to overcome. And even like (Drew) Storen, I don’t think he’s ever had a good spring. It takes them a little longer to get the feel. But the primary concern is stretching their arm out, and we’ve been doing that with Henry.”

There has been talk that the Nats will end up placing Rodriguez on the DL to start the season, instead keeping Romero with them on the opening day roster. In such a case, when Rodriguez’s DL stint is up, the Nats would then need to decide the next course of action.

But it seems from what Johnson is saying, the Nats plan to carry Rodriguez on the 25-man roster and hope he’s able to put it together in meaningful games.

Asked what role Rodriguez would serve, Johnson said Rodriguez would be one of his options in the seventh inning, along with Ryan Mattheus. In Johnson’s A and B bullpens, Storen and Tyler Clippard would alternate as the eighth-inning guy and Rafael Soriano would close.

Storen and Clippard would both be options in the ninth inning should Soriano need a day off.

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