MILWAUKEE — The Washington Nationals were up four runs Wednesday when manager Davey Johnson summoned Henry Rodriguez to pitch the eighth inning. The pressure was low, given the lead and the fact that he would be facing the bottom of the New York Mets’ lineup.
He threw 11 pitches. Only three were strikes. His first six were balls, bringing pitching coach Steve McCatty out to chat. The first two batters walked to put the tying run in the on-deck circle. Johnson couldn’t allow Rodriguez to continue, ultimately summoning three more pitchers to get out of the mess.
“It was just one of those days,” Johnson said later. “With Henry, it’s kind of hit or miss. Nobody hits him, but if he doesn’t get it over, it doesn’t matter.”
The Nationals are tantalized by Rodriguez’s talent. His power arm can break triple digits with relative ease, his changeup is deceptive in the low 90s and his breaking stuff can be deadly. His unreliability, however, is what the Nationals worry about most as they hit the stretch drive of a pennant race.
“I think everybody would like to see the consistency that he has shown early in the season,” McCatty said. “Everybody would like to see that. Am I saying time’s running out on looking at that? That’s not my decision. That’s Davey and [general manager Mike Rizzo’s]. I know it’s in there. I’ve seen it. I’d like to see it on a consistent basis. I think we all would.”
Rodriguez, who’s also been dealing with a sore back, has made eight appearances in July. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s leverage index, only two of those eight appearances have been barely above average pressure spots. The rest have been well below.
Rodriguez has faced 24 batters, retired only 15 and walked six. Johnson is right, in that opposing hitters have a .167 average against Rodriguez this month, but they’re also getting on-base at a .375 clip.
The Nationals have been carrying eight relievers for a week, wanting the arms to get through a grueling stretch of schedule, but with Chad Tracy and Jayson Werth getting healthier, the Nationals’ short bench will only last so long. Rodriguez, who politely declined to comment, could be a candidate to be cut when it comes to decision time.
Asked Wednesday if Rodriguez had to show some improvement to continue to justify his roster spot, Johnson was optimistic.
“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, there’s another day tomorrow. I’m not afraid to run him out there. He’s been spectacular for us, and at times not so good. Next time out, I’ll probably get spectacular.”
Johnson likes team’s makeup
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline coming up, the Nationals’ front office staff is in full force on the road trip. At least five top officials are in Milwaukee, including Rizzo, assistant GM Bryan Minniti and director of player development Doug Harris.
The Nationals’ needs at the deadline are relatively minimal, and Johnson reiterated his stance on Thursday that his team isn’t lacking any large pieces.
“I don’t see us going out there and doing a whole lot,” he said. “Kind of worried me a little bit because I’m looking around seeing all the brass from the front office and I’m saying ‘Holy moly. Maybe they’re getting ready to trade me? Who knows.’
“I guess you get all your battleships lined up in case you make a move.”
According to sources, the Nationals have some interest in acquiring a veteran middle infielder as an insurance policy with Ian Desmond out until at least Aug. 6 with an oblique strain. But Johnson didn’t view it as a need, listing Mark DeRosa and minor leaguers Josh Johnson and Zachary Walters as in-house options on an in-case basis.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s not a growing need right now,” Johnson said. “Although I know Rizzo is big on insurance. I like the cast of characters I’ve got. I haven’t been talking about anything specifically.”
Greinke unlikely to start
Milwaukee ace Zack Greinke is scheduled to pitch against the Nationals on Sunday, but the Brewers have openly said they are trying to move the soon-to-be free agent. Even Johnson acknowledged the chances of Greinke facing the Nationals is low. “I’d be real surprised,” he said.