The Washington Times - May 22, 2012, 12:33AM

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals are in a tough spot. They lost their closer for what appears to be nearly half the season almost as soon as it began. They lost one of the pitchers counted on to serve as a backup in that role shortly thereafter. Henry Rodriguez, a first-time closer with a penchant for wildness to go along with his electric talent, has struggled recently

Getting to the root of Rodriguez’s issues — figuring out why he can be jaw-droppingly good one night and ulcer-inducingly bad the next — isn’t an easy task. Sean Burnett, who bailed Rodriguez and the Nationals out Monday night, sympathized with his teammate.

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“You’ve got to come in and throw strikes,” Burnett said. “As a closer, your lead is only going to be three runs at the most. Come in and throw strikes. With his stuff, you just have to get the ball over the plate and good things will happen.”

After Monday night’s game, Ian Desmond offered an insightful theory and I wanted to share it in its entirety. Asked what it was like to be in the field when Rodriguez struggles the way he did Monday, Desmond drew an interesting comparison.

“You’re talking to a guy that’s made 40 errors in a season before, you know what I mean?” Desmond said, rounding up on the 34 he made his rookie year. “Seriously. He’s never been a closer before, on our team. He’s got to learn. It’s not easy coming in in the ninth inning. Ask anybody. There’s closers that have been in the big leagues a long time … look at, no disrespect, (Heath Bell) in Miami. He’s struggling with it, too. It’s not an easy job.

“Coming from a guy that’s booted more balls than probably anybody in the big leagues, it’s a mental thing. You want to do so good, and you want to help the team win. Every time he comes up there I’m rooting for him. I know the next time he comes out, he’s going to do better. It’s the same thing I went through, just different aspect, different position.

“In my opinion, it’s not a negative thing. I don’t look at it as a negative thing. He wants to do so good for our team, that in my personal opinion, that’s what’s hindering him. He wants to do so good because he knows we’re all behind him and we all care about him and want to know the talent he has. So he wants to go out and do so good for us.

“Every time he throws a ball, he doesn’t need to do that. That’s the same thing I went through with my errors. I used to want to field the ball and make the plays and help the team so much, that I would make bad decisions because I was thinking about everybody else instead thinking about myself and ‘What do I need to do to make the adjustment.’ I think it’s a very similar situation. Different position.”