Cleaning House: Duke and Rodriguez Dumped, Espinosa To DL

Did some Nats fan win a “Be Nationals GM For A Day” sweepstakes today?

The Nationals filled out every fan’s wishlist today, designating struggling relievers Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke for assignment and placing struggling second baseman Danny Espinosa on the disabled list. As replacements, the team reinstated Jayson Werth from the DL, called up infielder Anthony Rendon after three games at Triple A, and reliever Ian Krol from Double A.

May 20, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher Henry Rodriguez (63) follows through on a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the seventh inning at AT

Rodriguez’s DFA was by far the most long-awaited. In three seasons with the Nats, he was a constant source of frustration. He had a relatively high 4.22 ERA, but was best known for his terrible control. He was a fireballer, with a fastball exceeding 100 MPH, but he could never locate it. His lack of location led to his ridiculous numbers: he struck out a good 8.9 batters per nine innings, but walked an incredibly high 6.6 batters per nine, including 8.0 this year. He was also terrible at holding runners, allowing 93.5% (29/31) of attempted base stealers to successfully advance. Davey Johnson repeatedly said that he was far from giving up on Rodriguez’s great potential, but apparently Davey’s patience wore thin. Perhaps the last straw was when Rodriguez’s propensity to give up walks cost the Nationals a game in Atlanta a few days ago, as two walks and a hit allowed the Braves to walk off in extras.

As much as fans called for Rodriguez’s head, the designation of Duke was similarly hoped for and significantly more pressing. After excelling out of the bullpen last year with a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings, he blew up this year, with an 8.71 ERA in 20.0 innings. Unlike Rodriguez, he has no specific issues besides being hit often and hard. He allowed 13.5 hits per nine innings this year, and had only one more strikeout (11) than extra base hits allowed (10).

Since these two have been designated for assignment, they will be subject to waivers and any other team could claim them and put them on their 40-man roster. If they clear waivers, the Nationals can remove them from the 40-man and either assign them to a minor league team or release them altogether. Duke will almost certainly go unclaimed and be assigned to Triple A, while a significant chance exists that another team could take a risk on Rodriguez and his 102 MPH fastball and claim him. A team that thinks they can solve his control issues might take a flier, but three years in the majors might mean teams have seen enough to know he will never be a productive major league reliever.

May 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (8) breaks his bat on a pitch by San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40, not pictured) during the second inning at AT

Espinosa is also struggling mightily, but the team has yet to give up on him. He is being placed on the DL with a fractured wrist that he suffered on April 14th and was only recently discovered. However, according to the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, he was very close to being demoted to Triple A, and GM Mike Rizzo said he could still be optioned to the minors once he returns to health. Espinosa would not have to go through waivers to go to the minors because, in his third full major league season, he still has options that allow him to move freely between the majors and minors. Espinosa has been hapless at the plate, hitting .158/.193/.272 with 47 strikeouts and only four walks. Perhaps time to heal and weaker competition will cure what ails him, but if not, he could be spending a lot of time in Syracuse.

The replacements for these struggling players will be a breath of fresh air for the team. I addressed Werth’s return here, and he got off to a good start, going 1-4 in his first game in over a month. Some information on Rendon can be found in the brief post I wrote about his promotion to AAA, including speculation about him playing second base. He had played it sparingly before, but did drills there in Spring Training and Davey was happy with what he saw in terms of footwork. He did indeed play it at AAA, looking good in his three games. His role is not yet known, but it could range anywhere from starting second baseman ahead of Steve Lombardozzi and Jeff Kobernus to bench bat behind those two.

Ian Krol is a much less well known player than Werth or Rendon, to say the least. The lefty was acquired from the Athletics as a part of the Michael Morse trade, in which the Nationals also reacquired A.J. Cole. The former starter is entering his first full season in the bullpen and has dominated from that role, with a 0.69 ERA and 4.14 K/BB ratio in 26.0 IP at Double A Harrisburg. He is making a sizable jump to the majors, but his handedness makes him a logical replacement for Duke and the Triple A bullpen has been depleted by the promotions of Fernando Abad and Erik Davis and the opting out of J.C. Romero. The team also seems to have interest in keeping him in the big leagues for a while, given that they passed over Triple A lefty Xavier Cedeno, who was called up for a day earlier this season. He will join Abad as the bullpen’s only southpaws, but may not pitch much as the pen’s presumptive eighth man.

The Nationals finally recognized some glaring issues that needed to be corrected, but these did not fix the most important of the Nats’ problems: a lack of offense from all spots. Will these changes be too little, too late?

Topics: Danny Espinosa, Henry Rodriguez, Washington Nationals, Zach Duke

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