In his last full inning of work, Washington Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez has allowed five walks, four runs, and two hits. The two innings prior, Rodriguez had allowed no base runners, struck out four, and earned two saves.
Rodriguez, to say the least, has been inconsistent. At times this season he has been completely unhittable, other times he has been a slow-motion disaster. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new phenomenon for Rodriguez. Just last season the flame-thrower had seven outings in which he allowed more walks than outs recorded, earning three blown saves in just five overall opportunities.
Rodriguez’s unscheduled promotion into the closer role has only magnified his control issues, and unfortunately the importance of the position has caused the Nats to lose games in a season where winning matters. In just 15.2 innings pitched, Rodriguez has cost Washington four potential wins. Instead of sitting at a strong 22-13, they’d be owners of a MLB best 25-10.
That is not Freakin’ Bueno.
So what is the problem with Rodriguez, and is there any way to fix it?
I went back yesterday to try and see if I could spot anything on video that could point to Rodriguez’s control problems. I wanted to see if there was some mechanical flaw that was rearing its head on the innings where he fell apart, but I couldn’t find a thing. It appears then that the issue is completely mental. It happens to a lot of pitchers when they’re promoted to the closer role, and it’s rarely a pretty thing to watch.
We saw this happen to Joel Hanrahan when the Nats tried to make him a closer in 2009. Despite a strong showing in the pen early in the season, Hanrahan wilted under pressure when Washington made him their stopper. All he needed was a change of scenery though, as last season in Pittsburgh when given the opportunity again to close, the 30-year-old collected 40 saves and a 1.83 ERA.
Some Washington baseball fans will remember a former closer in Baltimore by the name of Armando Benitez. Benitez and Rodriguez have very similar stuff, but most importantly they are both flamethrowers with a control problem. After a few up and down seasons with Baltimore, Benitez figured out his control issues and became the New York Mets closer for several seasons. After leaving the Orioles, he earned 40-or-more saves three times in his career and was named to two All-Star teams.
The point here is that while some Nats fans may be infuriated with Rodriguez, his problem at this time seems to be entirely mental. He can figure this out, and maybe, he can finally develop into the ability that his talent promises. But a line needs to be drawn and I think we’ll see a change here very soon. Washington took a chance on Rodriguez by putting him in the closer role, but he simply has just cost the team wins. So while I don’t think we’ll see Henry go away, I definitely believe we need to put someone else in the closer spot until Drew Storen returns.