VIERA, Fla. — With the main stories on Friday being the ongoing status of Ryan Zimmerman’s contract extension talks, reaction to Ryan Braun’s appeal verdict, and the Nationals’ spring training pitching rotation getting set, here are a few other notes from Friday’s workout — the last one exclusively for pitchers and catchers.
– Henry Rodriguez will throw for the first time this spring on Sunday, the right-hander said Friday. Rodriguez conducted the first part of his interview in part Spanish, part English. Asked how he was feeling, Rodriguez said: “Bien, muy bien.” And on how his Winter League season went in Venezuela, he said, “Ah, 50-50, mas o menos.”
Infielder Andres Blanco walked over at that point to give Rodriguez something and the flamethrowing right-hander asked him to step in to translate for him the rest of the way.
On why he was able to improve as the season went on last year: “One of the keys was he got more opportunity and as soon as he saw it going he got more comfortable. The more opportunities he got, the more he trusted his pitches and that made him throw better in the second half.”
On how he feels about being relied on as a primary set-up man this season: “First of all he’ll just try to help the team win. It doesn’t matter what spot he throws in he just wants to give 100 percent to help the team and otherwise you try to keep healthy, be healthy all season long and help the team. It doesn’t matter if it’ll be setup or long reliever, he just wants to make it a good year.”
On how his control was in the VZ Winter League: “It was good. He did enough to make an adjustment and understand what exactly he needs to do to come over here and keep proving that he’s getting better.”
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the team did not rush Rodriguez on to a mound because of what happened last year when Rodriguez, delayed then by a visa issue, injured himself in spring training and began the season on the disabled list.
“There was a little problem last spring – I think he was late and he said he’d been throwing and he had some problems,” Johnson said. “They put him on the mound quickly. So we know he’s been throwing (in the winter league), but he’s late so we’re going to have two days (before) throwing.”
– Stephen Strasburg has thrown two bullpen sessions this spring and, much to his delight, he hasn’t been questioned furiously after them or done so with a thousand cameras snapping with each twitch of his precious right arm.
Johnson reiterated on Friday that the Nationals’ standing in the playoff race will have absolutely no bearing on how the team handles Strasburg — which will be as if he’s the same as any of their other starters until they shut him down.
“Regardless of where we stand in September, he’s on the 150-, 160-inning limit,” Johnson said. “You always do what’s best for the player, because what’s best for the player health-wise is what’s best for the organization. The player’s health is even more important than another 20 innings.”
Johnson also offered his own take on the root of Strasburg’s injury, though he conceded no one will ever know without a shadow of a doubt what triggers each individual Tommy John surgery.
“I’m sure everybody has an opinion,” Johnson said. “But one of my things (I think) caused the problem was, with the hype that was created around him – No. 1 pick, his phenomenal last season in college, his stuff – that he, to me, started overthrowing a little bit. I think that was part of it.
“He struck people out when I had him in the Olympics (in 2008), but he located with good stuff. It wasn’t 98-100 and coming up top, it was mid-90s, great movement and great location. Then when I saw him striking out the 14 (against the Pirates in his debut) when he was up here and, to me, he was overthrowing it. Everybody was eating it up, but that worried me. I can’t say that that (was a definite cause), but in my mind, I thought that was pushing the envelope. And he hurt it on a changeup, but throwing 100 miles an hour… (his changeup’s 91).”
– Johnson will hold a team meeting before Saturday’s full squad workout. He said his message will be similar to the one he tried to convey on the first day of pitchers and catchers workouts — to take things slow and not push it, no one’s getting cut on the first day.
“(I’ll address) what I’m expecting this year, as well as this spring,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said he’ll use the workouts as an opportunity to get to know the players he has little or no history with. He’s grouped the players in such a way that the ones he does not know very well will all be together, making it easy for him to work with them all at the same time.