BALTIMORE — Earlier I noted the improved play of Henry Rodriguez since his disastrously wild outing in Florida on Mother’s Day.
It’s tough to read too much into his last three outings because the nature of Rodriguez’s talent — that he can throw over 100 mph — is that it’s fickle. He could have another wild outing soon and it’d look like he’s taken steps back.
What is important, though, is that the more clean outings he builds up, the more his confidence will grow. He has not changed his approach or his mechanics and, even when he has wild outings, his bullpens have been fine and he locates well during warmups, pitching coach Steve McCatty said.
The only thing that has changed recently for Rodriguez is the results.
“I’ve just tried to stress to him, you can’t worry about (walks),” McCatty said. “You’re a power guy, you’ve got a great arm, you just throw strikes. If you walk a guy, you walk a guy. You’re going to lose some that don’t look to pretty but that’s part of his package. He’s got tremendous, tremendous ability.”
The Nationals are prepared to take the good and the bad with Rodriguez, one of the main parts to the trade that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland this offseason. While they’re thrilled with his recent ability to locate — and the fact that they were able to trust him with a lead Friday night — they expect more of that to come as he learns to harness his power.
“Another guy who had control problems as a young guy?” McCatty said. “I’m not making comparisons, but Sandy Koufax used to be pretty wild too. With young guys it happens, guys that throw hard.
“Do I think he’s doing better? Yes. Am I surprised? No. He’s a young guy who, once he gets in a zone where he’s comfortable with his pitches and get some success going, then things can really turn around because the kid works tremendously hard.”
The lead Rodriguez was trusted with in the fifth inning Friday was, of course, a seven-run lead. But he was expected to come into the game before the Nationals scored six runs in the top half of the frame and, before that, it was a one-run game. It’s the type of situation McCatty believes he can thrive in eventually. Right now, the Nationals have guys like Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen to use in those situations late in games but if Rodriguez can eventually be relied on there as well, with the heat he throws, he could be a tremendous weapon.
“There’s an uncomfortable feeling at the plate when you know a guy is throwing stuff around but the last thing you want is to have (the batter) feel really comfortable,” McCatty said. “I just want him to go out and trust himself and get comfortable and have confidence every time and know that he’s going to work himself into what everybody would like to say is the ‘crucial situation.’ That’s certainly going to happen. He’s got unbelievable ability and he’s made big strides in just showing his ability and getting comfortable on the mound so I’m real happy with that.”