Phil Wood: Reliever Henry Rodriguez has a chance to become a 'monster' for Nationals

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Phil Wood

A half-century ago, a right-handed relief pitcher with the Boston Red Sox named Dick Radatz was nicknamed "The Monster." At the time, he was more associated with the word "monster" than the left field wall at Fenway Park.

Radatz was big -- 6-foot-6, 230 pounds -- and could throw the ball through the wall. Literally. As a substitute teacher in the offseason in suburban Detroit, he once threw a baseball through one of those folding-type walls used to separate one side of a gym from the other. In those pre-radar gun days, it was clear that facing Radatz required some courage and a batting helmet.

Radatz dominated American League hitters for four seasons in the early 1960s. The Red Sox weren't very good at the time, and Radatz pitched a lot of innings from 1962 to 1965, averaging 135 a year in late relief. He won 49 and saved an even 100 in those four years, before the wear-and-tear finally took its toll. He lasted until 1969, but in those final few seasons, he was a shadow of what he'd been.

Dick Radatz, in his prime, threw a lot of strikes: more than 600 strikeouts in 538.1 innings over those four seasons, including 181 in 1964, placing him seventh in the AL.

Radatz' fastball reached legendary status all those years ago. The Washington Nationals believe that Henry Rodriguez possesses the same physical ability to be a Radatz-type monster in his own right, albeit in far fewer innings.

Despite what you may think, neither general manage Mike Rizzo nor skipper Davey Johnson are anywhere close to ready to give up on the 26-year-old Venezuelan flame-thrower. Henry's spring training numbers weren't very good, but you can take a lot of those stats with a grain of salt.

"He missed a lot of time last year," said Johnson, "and we took it slow with him early on."

He ended up throwing 8.2 innings with seven strikeouts and 10 walks, but allowed batters to hit only .107 against him.

"He cut down on his walks his last couple of appearances," said Johnson, "and last year, no one had better command than he had in spring training."

Rodriguez is out of minor league options, and the Nats know that if they tried to get him through waivers, another club would surely claim him. Arms like Henry's that can throw 100 mph don't grow on trees. It's true that there's no shortage of hard throwers with poor command in the minor leagues, but as his manager put it, "He's got three pitches that are extremely hard to hit when he gets them over. We know he can do it on this level."

Henry's role for 2013 is difficult to define on the eve of the season opener. He'll likely throw a lot of middle relief, or possibly some situational assignments, but somewhere down the road, the team believes the enigmatic young man will be a "monster" in his own right.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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