MILWAUKEE — Twelve days ago, as the Nationals and the Braves went to extra innings, manager Jim Riggleman was handicapped by his bullpen. In a tight situation with the game on the line, it was clear he was trying to avoid bringing in two of his relievers: Brian Broderick and Henry Rodriguez.
Broderick, who was warming to come into the game if it had gone any further, has since been designated for assignment and the Rule 5 pick was recently accepted back by the St. Louis Cardinals. Rodriguez was pitching in a one-run game in the eighth inning Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
Now, part of the reason Rodriguez has gone from unusable to the guy in such a short amount of time is because he’s performed well. Since a wild, disastrous outing in Florida on Mother’s Day, Rodriguez hadn’t allowed a run in four straight appearances, had struck out seven and — most importantly — hadn’t walked a single batter. The control he was displaying combined with the fact that he can routinely send a pitch in at 100 mph made him Riggleman’s choice Tuesday night.
“That’s where I want to be,” Rodriguez said through a translator on Tuesday. “You’ve just got to focus on the job and do the job.”
After Sean Burnett retired the first batter of the eighth, the ball was handed to Rodriguez, though both Cole Kimball and Todd Coffey were also available. By now, I’m sure you know the result.
“Burnett was there to face Fielder and that was it,” Riggleman said. “Everybody else coming up I felt were power hitters and I thought Rodriguez matched up real good against. Rodriguez has been outstanding as of late so to tell you the truth, I thought it was pretty obvious.
“(Drew) Storen was going to go one inning. It’s always tempting, but he threw 25 pitches last night, to have him go an inning-plus tonight, we’ve got to take care of this guy just like we do everybody else and I felt good with Rodriguez in there. It was a flare hit. It happens. That flare hit could have happened off Storen.”
Storen had no qualms with the decision, noting Rodriguez’s improved performance of late, the matchups and the need to think “big picture” when it comes to his use over the course of the season. He could have done it, he said, but he was preparing for the ninth. The Nationals just never got there.
It’s tough to belabor this loss. The Nationals bullpen — and their entire pitching staff — has been the team’s brightest spot. But relieving is a fickle business. While it’s easy to crush Riggleman for turning to Rodriguez, he was, in essence, repaying the trust of a guy who’d been doing well — and one they’d like to rely on more in those situations. The loss was ultimately decided on a flare hit, but Rodriguez also gave up a single to Casey McGehee and issued a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Brandon Boggs, who scored the winning run.
“That’s baseball,” Rodriguez said. “You guys saw what happened. It’s part of the game. It was a jam shot and it fell good.”
It was also the Nationals sixth loss in their last seven games and soured Michael Morse’s first career grand slam.
Zack Greinke awaits this afternoon.