Rodriguez removed as closer after 'meltdown,' replaced by no one in particular

PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Nationals are dealing with injuries all over the field, and so far they are surviving nicely. But now their awful injury situation is compounded by what manager Davey Johnson termed a "meltdown'' on the part of fill-in closer Henry Rodriguez, who as of Tuesday is no longer the fill-in closer, according to Johnson.

The Nats are depleted in the outfield with the injuries to stars Michael Morse and Jayson Werth. But it's nothing to compare to their closing situation, which turned from dicey to a downright mess in one day.

Washington started at closer this spring with talented young right-hander Drew Storen, who went out with an elbow injury. Then they had the experienced Brad Lidge, who is also out with an abdominal issue. Then came Rodriguez, who just seemed out of it.

"The big thing was losing [Ryan] Mattheus and having Henry have a meltdown,'' Johnson told "I was missing two closers, now I'm missing three closers. And Mattheus [who went on the disabled list today with a foot injury] is the other guy. So now I'm down four.''

Before Tuesday night's game, Rodriguez walked out to the dugout looking slightly forlorn, and he sidled up to the sage Lidge at one point. Rodriguez looked lost on the mound Monday night, and Johnson removed him in time to save the game, a 2-1 victory over the Phillies that left-hander Sean Burnett closed out.

But Johnson's at a loss for what to tell Rodriguez at the moment. "I may be in a situation where I still might need him to close,'' Johnson said. "So what am I going to say?''

That probably won't come anytime soon, as Rodriguez has walked 13 and thrown eight wild pitches in 16 very interesting innings. Rodriguez seemed like the perfect choice to be the closer (or at least the third closer), as he has a 100-mph fastball and a wicked breaking ball. However, he doesn't seem very familiar with the strike zone at the moment.

Tyler Clippard, the team's very effective set-up man, is stumping for the closing job until his roommate Storen gets back. "I want it bad," Clippard told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post and other Nationals writers. "I've been fighting for the opportunity for three years now. I feel like I've been over-stepped a few times along the way for the opportunity to get these saves for whatever reason.''

For whatever reason, Johnson is reluctant to name one closer now, not Clippard, not anyone. Maybe he doesn't want to jinx anyone. Clippard, Burnett and Craig Stammen look like the best candidates for now, with Lidge due back in possibly another two weeks and Storen maybe sometime in July.

Johnson suggested it'll be a committee effort for now, though he didn't use that word. Really, it's about who's coming up, who's fresh and what strikes his fancy at the moment.

"It's easy for you guys to name someone,'' Johnson said. "I can't. I can't. There's not a name I can give you,'' he added, emphatically.

"It just depends on what's the [darned] situation. Talk to me in the eighth inning, or the ninth inning, and I'll tell you.''

One thing's for sure, it's not going to be Rodriguez. At least for now it's not.

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