3/28/2013 4:22 P.M. ET
Rodriguez likely wins Nationals' final bullpen job
By Joey Nowak / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson said reliever J.C. Romero, who posted a 3.86 ERA in five relief appearances for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, will travel to Washington with the team Thursday night and then depart for Triple-A Syracuse, thus essentially placing Henry Rodriguez in the Opening Day bullpen and putting to rest the final remaining significant spring question.
Things could change, of course, if Rodriguez -- who has battled command issues all spring, is coming off surgery to clean up a bone spur last year and is scheduled to pitch Friday -- lands on the disabled list before the season starts. That would open the spot for Romero, who was a late sign and would be just the second lefty in Washington's bullpen.
"That's where we're at right now," Johnson said. "I like the progress. I've been pretty clear on how big power arms take longer, especially in Henry's case -- he missed the last half of the year, didn't have winter ball, and a lot of times that's a psychological thing to overcome."
Rodriguez has been largely erratic this spring -- his breaking pitches have been better, but his fastball command wild -- and he's walked 10 batters in 8 2/3 innings. But Rodriguez's managed to maintain a 4.15 ERA, while striking out seven and scattering just three hits.
"I think he's closer," Johnson said. "He's making progress. Even with his wildness, his numbers are still pretty good if you compare him with everybody else."
General manager Mike Rizzo said last week that Romero, who has pitched two scoreless innings, would start the year in the Minors. The only other lefty in Johnson's bullpen is long man Zach Duke.
Johnson said he envisions Rodriguez, who over the years has been considered a possible closer candidate, as a seventh-inning setup candidate.
Gio fires four shutout frames in spring finale
VIERA, Fla. -- Gio Gonzalez's last start of the Grapefruit League season was, incredibly, his first at Space Coast Stadium in two years in a Nationals jersey. And just like that, he's leaving again.
Following the Nationals' 5-1 victory over the Mets, Gonzalez and his teammates departed their Spring Training complex and headed north to Washington. Even though manager Davey Johnson said the southpaw wasn't feeling well, Gonzalez struck out seven, walked two and allowed just one hit over four shutout innings.
"I think what it is, is just trying to get work in a little bit, trying to pound that first-pitch strike and trying to get the first out of every inning," Gonzalez said. "That's what [catcher Kurt Suzuki] and I were sitting down and talking about in the bullpen. 'What do we want to work on today? What do we want to do?' Obviously, the last game, you don't want to slack."
Of Gonzalez's 10 Grapefruit League starts (five this year) since he was traded to the Nationals from the A's in December 2011, all but one of them had come on the road. He helped send the Nationals out with a victory on Thursday.
"Everyone's trying to get ready," said Gonzalez, who is scheduled to pitch his first game of the regular season on Wednesday against the Marlins. "Everyone's, mentally, already in D.C. right now ready to go. You can see that we're still swinging, we're still playing, we're still having fun. But at the same time, we're looking forward to getting ready and staying healthy for D.C."
• In addition to Rodriguez being used for the seventh inning, Johnson confirmed that Ryan Mattheus will be used to pitch the setup role in the seventh. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen will be in eighth-inning roles, and closing if necessary. Rafael Soriano will be used to close.
"Last year was kind of an aberration, because even my long man was setting up and different guys out of the 'pen were closing," Johnson said. "So it's depending how they go and what role they settle into. It's no secret. … I run a bullpen more on trying to keep the guys not overly used, and balancing both sides of the 'pen."
• Utility men Micah Owings and Carlos Rivero will be sent down to Minor League camp after Thursday's game against the Mets.
• Jayson Werth was fine after getting hit on the left elbow with a pitch on Wednesday, but he was held out of Thursday's lineup anyway.
"Before Jayson got hit on the elbow, he said, 'Two, maybe three' [at-bats on Thursday],'" Johnson said. "It went from, 'Two, maybe three' to 'Zippo.' He's all right. Just got him on the funny bone."
• Bryce Harper was back after missing a game to nurse his sore left thumb. All of the Nationals' regulars are expected to at least start in Friday's exhibition against the Yankees at Nationals Park.
"We're going to be on our home turf," Johnson said. "Everybody's going to want to get reacquainted with the ground and the walls."