Nationals notes: Henry Rodriguez looks set for final bullpen spot

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VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals entered spring training with much of their 25-man roster set, and with less than three weeks before Opening Day, the one spot they had in the bullpen appears all but filled.

Provided Henry Rodriguez is healthy, manager Davey Johnson indicated Monday that the right-hander will round out the seven-man group.

“Henry is an outstanding talent,” Johnson said before the Nationals‘ 7-2 loss to the Braves. “He’s certainly got the stuff to be outstanding at this level. He’s shown flashes of that. I’m looking for consistency out of him this year.”

The reliever, who is out of minor league options, pitched one inning Friday, his first outing since August surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow. Monday, Rodriguez got two outs before giving up a single to B.J. Upton and hitting the next batter he faced. He was pulled then, in order to keep his pitch count low.

“Certainly he’s not somebody that I’m overlooking,” Johnson said. “He’s one of my favorites.”

That means it’s likely the Nationals could open the season with six right-handed relievers and just one lefty, Zach Duke, who is primarily a long reliever. Johnson isn’t limiting his search for another lefty, though.

“I’m going to take the guys that I know can do the job against left and right,” he said. “It’s a whole new left-handed crew, basically [from last year]. … There’s been mixed results.”

Fernando Abad has led the remaining southpaws, and Johnson said he’ll likely keep Abad around camp for at least a while longer.

Right-hander Christian Garcia, who Johnson said is “chomping at the bit” to return from a partially torn tendon in his right wrist, could also compete for the spot, but the Nationals would prefer to stretch him into a starter.

Strasburg has longest outing

Stephen Strasburg’s total spring training innings hadn’t surpassed nine when he took the mound for his fourth start Monday and turned in 5 1/3 innings (73 pitches) against the Braves. Thanks to a double play in the second, Strasburg faced the minimum through four innings and allowed just a hit and walk through five.

He struggled in the sixth, attributing the four-run inning to difficulty working out of the stretch. Strasburg has focused on varying his times to the plate this spring after base runners took advantage of his regularity in 2012.

A less-than-successful ending to his outing might have bothered him more in the past, Strasburg conceded. But he seemed to brush this one off, as he is narrowing his focus this spring.

“It’s all about pitch count,” Strasburg said. “I didn’t even get through four innings before today … getting through five and six with less pitches, I was able to do that today and I know it’s only going to be a matter of time before it becomes more consistent.”

Around the horn

Pitcher Nate Karns was sent for an X-ray on his upper right leg, at the request of a specialist who reviewed his MRI, to get to the bottom of the tightness plaguing him. Karns said he felt improved Monday. … The Nationals plan to trim the roster after Wednesday’s split-squad games.

⦁ Staff writer Amanda Comak contributed to this report.

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