The Washington Nationals will be pleasantly surprised to see Henry Rodriguez make a big impact for the team in 2013.
Surprised, of course, because Rodriguez's impact in 2012 was not guaranteed to be positive, although it always seemed to be big.
Rodriguez appeared in 35 games in 2012 and at times, he was explosive. The Venezuelan flamethrower struck out 31 batters in 29.1 innings pitched and surrendered only 19 hits for a .181 opponents' batting average. His average fastball velocity was calculated at 97.7 mph by FanGraphs.com, fifth best among all relievers.
Yet in the same season, Rodriguez was also implosive. A total of 22 batters reached base via walk against him, versus the 19 who reached base via hit. And four of the 19 hits he surrendered were home runs. Plus, he finished with a pedestrian 1.40 WHIP and a bloated 5.83 ERA.
But most damning for Henry Rodriguez was his performance as the Nationals closer. With Drew Storen out for the first half of the season and Brad Lidge pitching himself off the team, manager Davey Johnson decided to experiment with Henry Rodriguez as the closer in late April.
The combustible elements of Rodriguez's control problems and lack of confidence in the pressure cooker that is the ninth inning made for a disastrous experiment indeed.
Rodriguez converted his first five save opportunities of the season, but then he blew his next three and was out as the closer after May 16. He was optioned to the minor leagues in early June, but returned to the Nats in early July. However, injury issues curtailed his season and he had season-ending elbow surgery on August 31, causing him to miss the postseason.
But the 2012 season is behind him now.
Henry Rodriguez has pitched well in spring training, and appears ready to make the Washington Nationals' roster on Opening Day, filling the seventh and final spot in the bullpen. Nationals manager Davey Johnson justified his decision to keep Rodriguez on the MLB roster to Kelly Parson, special to The Washington Times, while also establishing his expectations for the reliever, who has no more options with the club:
Henry is an outstanding talent. 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.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of the 2013 season for Henry Rodriguez is that there will be absolutely no pressure on him.
The Nationals will not be asking Rodriguez to be their closer. After all, they already have three closers in Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.
The Nationals will not pitch Rodriguez as a situational reliever. The pivotal matchups will be left in the steady hands of Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia.
And the Nationals will certainly not be counting on Rodriguez as their long man. That duty will go to Craig Stammen and Zack Duke.
No, this season the Nationals can take the pressure off Henry Rodriguez and allow him to simply do what he does best: blow hitters away.
And he may surprise some people in the process.