- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2012

Brad Lidge watched the Washington Nationals’ game Sunday evening. He felt what his teammates felt. He lived and died just as they did with every pitch. 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.

“I know how hard it is,” Lidge said, referring to what it’s like to be in Rodriguez’s position, 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, his third homer of the game, sending the Nationals trudging off the sopping wet field and home from Cincinnati with a gut-wrenching 9-6 loss. It was his second blown save in his past four opportunities and third in the past six.

With Lidge aiming for a return in mid-June and closer Drew Storen starting a throwing program in his recovery from elbow surgery, 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 tantalizing, that it makes his inconsistencies all the more maddening.

On Saturday night, Rodriguez was dominant. He threw 10 pitches, touched 99 mph or higher on the radar gun five times and struck out three straight hitters to seal a 2-1 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. They also stressed the unexpected nature with which he was placed in it with Storen and Lidge 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.”

Notes: Left fielder Michael Morse threw Monday for the first time since he was shut down on April 11 with a torn right lat muscle. Morse tossed from 50-60 feet, Johnson said, and the outfielder said he was scheduled to take dry swings Tuesday. The Nationals have targeted June 8 in Boston, their first Interleague series in an American League park, for Morse’s return.

• Chien-Ming Wang threw eight-plus innings for Triple-A Syracuse on Monday, allowing 11 hits and four runs. Wang is allowed to remain on rehab assignment until May 27. He will make at least one more rehab start.

Lidge threw for the first time since his May 1 surgery to repair a sports hernia, making throws from 60 feet on flat ground and also did some jogging. The right-hander said his rehab schedule should have him on target to return in the third week of June.

Storen did some light throwing as well Monday, the first he’s done since his April 11 surgery to remove a bone chip from his right elbow. Storen’s timetable appears to be lengthier than Lidge’s because of the nature of his injury but Johnson said the right-hander “felt great” after throwing and expected some soreness Tuesday.

• Catcher Wilson Ramos, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament Saturday, was scheduled to meet with team doctor Wiemi Douoguih on Monday night to be evaluated and possibly plan his expected surgery.

• The surgeon who operated on Jayson Werth’s left wrist at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Richard Berger, told Werth that having surgery as soon as he did to stabilize the break likely shaved three weeks off his recovery time. Werth still is expected to miss 10-12 weeks.