MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — For Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez, the fact that he can hit 100-plus on the radar gun is both a blessing and a curse.
It got him to the major leagues at age 22 with the Oakland Athletics and it made the Nationals think highly enough of him that they were willing to trade Josh Willingham for him (and outfielder Corey Brown) this offseason.
But harnessing that heat is going to be a constant battle for Rodriguez and he was on the losing end of that fight Sunday afternoon when he pitched the bottom of the eighth inning in the Nationals 8-0 loss to the Marlins.
Rodriguez took over for Brian Broderick to begin the eighth with the game already far out of reach for Washington. He faced six batters. It went something like this: Walk, ground out, walk, wild pitch, strikeout, run-scoring wild pitch, walk (with ball four also a wild pitch if not technically scored as one), strikeout.
It was, in one inning, everything good and bad about Rodriguez’s ability.
“That’s part of the package with a guy that can throw up to 100 miles an hour,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty.
Rodriguez did have a bit of an issue on Sunday with the mound, not accustomed to the landing area that the other pitchers had worn down before he arrived, and McCatty said Rodriguez, who does not speak much English, gets a little too amped up when he first enters a game which could contribute to the initial wildness.
While the Nationals are prepared to roll with Rodriguez’s wildness as they attempt to guide him to finding more control, several of his pitches were up around the heads of the Marlins batters and that is something that no one wants to see.
“Steve McCatty and I were talking about this,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “He’d throw a pitch that Pudge can’t get to up and then throw a great breaking ball. He threw a couple great breaking balls and I just, I don’t want to see somebody get hit in the head and a couple of those balls were up high like that.
“I’m concerned when I see that, but he’s just got to work it out. I don’t think he felt real good on that mound. I know there was a landing area there that he was a little uncomfortable with but then he would throw a tremendous pitch so it was a little hard to figure out.”
Outside of anyone getting injured, the biggest issue for the Nationals is that they’d like to use Rodriguez in more high-leverage situations. There’s not much that’s more intimidating than a guy coming at you with 101 m.p.h and then dropping in a changeup that’s 89.
But there’s no way they’ll be able to put him into those situations until he can harness his pitches better.
“We’ve got to get him sharper before we can get him into bigger spots,” Riggleman said.
Sunday’s outing was not encouraging with regard to that type of improvement — however, Rodriguez is consistently working with McCatty on his lines, his control and his delivery. They’re not making major changes and there wasn’t anything specific that was out of whack on Sunday. He worked on his lines in the bullpen in Philadelphia and again today before he entered.
It’s just something that’s going to be a continuous progression.
“Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill,” McCatty said. “A couple of pitches got away… That’s part of the thing you know about him. You live and die with the power. He’s a power pitcher, he’s still young, he’s out there, he’s amped up, he wants to do well.”