Rodriguez likely wins Nationals' final bullpen job

Rodriguez likely wins Nationals' final bullpen job

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.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.& This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.