Are the Nats Set for Opening Day

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Early this week Davey Johnson made the announcement that Henry Rodriguez
would be in the Nats bullpen and that Zach Duke would be the only lefty in the
Nats bullpen. The reason that Johnson gave was that you don’t want to give up
on a talent like Henry Rodriguez. Anyone that has seen him pitch on one of his
good days can attest to just how talented he is. Henry Rodriguez is second only
to Stephen Strasburg when it comes to pure stuff. The issue hasn’t been with
the 100 MPH fastball, the hard biting quick diving curve, or the drop off the
table 91 MPH change-up. The issue with Henry Rodriguez is that no one,
including himself, is ever quite certain of where his pitches are going.

In 2011 Henry Rodriguez was inconsistent
but his final numbers were good with a 3.56 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 9.59 K/9, and 0.14
HR/9. In 2012 the number that really changed was the HR/9 as it rose from 0.14
in 2011 to 1.23 in 2012. Overall for his career Henry Rodriguez has a 0.50 HR/9
so 2011 was a bit low and 2012 a bit high. If Henry Rodriguez can get that
under control then he is a useful reliever even without lowering his walk
totals, but his career 5.83 BB/9 is bad. It is very bad. As are his 34 career
wild pitches in 126 games. If Henry Rodriguez can ever harness his stuff he
will be one of the best relievers in baseball, and if he can be healthy and
back to 2011 that is still more than acceptable for the seventh man in the
bullpen.

Henry Rodriguez is going to have to earn
his way back into Davey Johnson’s good graces. With Mattheus, Stammen, Clippard,
Storen, and Soriano being handed the sixth-ninth innings the only chance
Rodriguez has to pitch in a meaningful game is if it goes 15 innings, and
unless the 2013 Nationals are trying to emulate the 2012 Orioles that isn’t
going to happen but once in a blue moon. Henry Rodriguez is going to start the
season as the Nats mop-up man. He will come in when the team is up or down by
four or more runs, and if he is off then either his poor performance won’t
matter or adjustments will be made quickly as a blow-out becomes a save
situation.

There is also the fact that Henry
Rodriguez was suffering from arm issues in 2012. Pin-pointing exactly where the
troubles began is difficult, but Rodriguez was never the same after he struck
out the side on ten pitches against the Reds. It was by far his best
performance of the season, but was immediately followed by his worst as he gave
up a walk-off grand slam to Joey Votto. Through the 10-pitch game Rodriguez had
a 2.45 ERA and 3.00 K/BB ration. After that game he had a 9.20 ERA with a 0.66
K/BB ratio. While Henry Rodriguez is likely not as good as he was in his 14 2/3
innings before the injury he also isn’t nearly as bad as he was afterwards. His
2011 season is much closer to his true talent level than 2012, but if he can
even shave a tiny amount off of his BB/9 then he has a chance to be a key
member of the Nats 2013 bullpen.  

The other bit of small news out of Nats
camp is that Stephen Strasburg will indeed be the Opening Day starter. This was
as much of a mystery as who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, but the
announcement makes it official. Stephen Strasburg’s main goal this spring has
been to become more efficient. The way he chose to accomplish this was by
adding deception. He felt that he needed to make his pitches look
more similar out of his hand in order to fool more batters and induce more
weak swings. Strasburg wants to be the one in control of the at bats. He wants
the batters to swing at his pitches instead of waiting for theirs. Strasburg
didn’t need to improve much on this. His stuff is so good he could tell a
batter what is coming and they still wouldn’t be able to hit it.  

Strasburg’s curve and change-up are two
of the most beautiful pitches in baseball. The curve starts at a right hander’s
head and breaks into the middle of the strikezone. There have been many times
that batters have bailed on the curve to a degree that some of them hit the
deck only to look up and see the ball floating right back into the strikezone
for a called strike. Strasburg’s change-up is just as vicious as it
starts in the middle of the strikezone, and just as it gets to the plate it
stops, taunts the batter, and then drops out of the zone as their bat passes
harmlessly over it. Strasburg warns that he may lose a bit of movement on these
pitches by trying to make them all look the same out of his hand, but pitching
is about deception and inducing weak swings won’t do much to reduce
Strasburg’s strikeout totals and may make it so that when batters do
make contact it is weak contact.  

The other added benefit of making all his pitches look the same out of his
hand is that batters won’t be able to pick up the rotation on the ball as
easily. The curve and change-up are both wipe-out pitches that Strasburg uses
most often when ahead in the count to get strikeouts. If a batter knows these
two pitches that are likely to be out of the strikezone are coming they may not
swing. If the pitches look like a fastball out of the hand and then more likely
to be a strike they have no choice but to start their swing.

With the news of Henry Rodriguez being
in the bullpen and Strasburg being the Opening Day starter the Nats are ready
for Opening Day. The roster and rotation are both set and all that has to
happen is for April 1 arrive with everyone healthy. An injury is the only
chance for the 25 man roster to look much different than what was predicted the
second after Rafael Soriano was signed. And I am certain that many Nats fans
would agree with me that this Spring Training has felt more tedious an unnecessary
than any other in recent memory.

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One comment

  1. Amazing that the only question left is if the 4/5 of the rotation goes Haren/Detwiler or vice versa. Either way you have a nice R/R/L/R/L, only difference is if you’d rather have Stras bookend by lefties or if you just want to give Haren’s ego a nice pat. Davey showed in ’12 he doesn’t like to mess with his starters except for extra rest (only) when needed, so it’s not like either Haren or Detwiler are going to be getting skipped. Perhaps if Detwiler is the #5 they can skip him once or twice to keep him from packing in too many innings, he only pitched 150.1 in ’12 and at +30% that’s 195 innings, right what you’d expect for a 4/5 starter, but fatigue could become an issue toward the end…

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