The Washington Times - May 14, 2012, 06:17PM

Brad Lidge watched the Washington Nationals’ game Sunday evening. He felt what they felt. He lived and died just the way they did. As Henry Rodriguez gave up a single to the first batter. As he issued two two-out walks to load the bases. As he forced himself to face Joey Votto. 

The Nationals’ right-hander, recovering from sports hernia surgery, couldn’t help it. He found himself yelling at the television.

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“I know how hard it is,” Lidge said, referring to what it’s like to be in Rodriguez’s position on the mound, attempting to close out a one-run game. “Anyone who has pitched the ninth inning has been there.”

Rodriguez surrendered a grand slam to Votto sending the Nationals trudging off the sopping wet field and home from Cincinnati with a gut-wrenching loss. It was his second blown save in his last four opportunities, and third in his last six. With Lidge aiming for a return in mid-June and closer Drew Storen at the very start of a throwing program in his recovery from surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow, Rodriguez’s performance prompted the question: Would the next save opportunity go to him? Nationals manager Davey Johnson chafed at the suggestion. 

“Yes, he’s my closer,” he said Monday. “He’s been very successful at closing, in a job that’s not that easy. As far as I’m concerned, he’s been great.

“I’m not going to answer these questions every time there’s a little blip on the radar screen. Is he my closer? Yes, he’s my closer. I have all the confidence in the world… So don’t be asking those questions to me no more. If there’s something that’s going to change on that, I’ll volunteer it.”

It was a defiant defense of the Nationals’ right-hander, a 25-year-old who didn’t get his first major league save until last September, and whose talent is so immense, so tantalizing, that it makes his inconsistencies all the more maddening.  

On Saturday night, Rodriguez was as dominant as possible. He threw 10 pitches, touched 99 mph or higher on the radar gun with five of them, had pinpoint control and struck out three straight hitters to seal a Washington Nationals victory. On Sunday, he was staring at the floor in front of his locker trying to come up with the words, in English or Spanish, to describe what had gone wrong.

“When it comes up when there’s a wild pitch in there, couple walks, you have to understand, that’s part of Henry,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty. “He can go back out there tonight and throw nine pitches and locate extremely well. And then you say, ‘Well why can’t he do that all the time?’ Because he’s a power, power, plus-power arm. Not only that he has a real good breaking ball and he has a tendency, guys like that, to want to overthrow it. It happens.”

Both McCatty and Johnson stressed Rodriguez’s inexperience in the role. His relative newness to the beast they described as the final inning of a major league game. They also stressed the unexpected nature with which he was placed in it with Storen and Lidge both going down and the chance they feel he deserves to retain the role.

“People do not understand how tough that inning is,” McCatty said. “For a young guy to go out there and get eight of 11… I think he’s done a pretty good job myself.”

“To sit back and say, ‘Look what happened (Sunday) night, look what happened in Pittsburgh, look what happened in L.A.’ Well there’s eight other times he was awfully good and out of those two times, he was one strike away from getting out of them . Frustrating is not the word. Patience would be the word. We’ve got to be patient and give him the ball, let him go out there and not be frustrated by it, because we understand Henry.”