Reliever Henry Rodriguez, being brought along slowly by the Nationals this spring following last year's elbow surgery, is close to being cleared to pitch in games and make his case for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.

Rodriguez threw off a bullpen mound yesterday in front of team officials and looked sharp, according to manager Davey Johnson.

The Nationals will have the right-hander throw one more bullpen session, then face hitters in a "live BP" setting before he appears in a Grapefruit League game. That's similar to the plan the club has for recently signed right-hander Chris Young.

Even if he doesn't make his spring debut until next week, Rodriguez still has plenty of time to earn a roster spot. He's one of several pitchers in the running for the final spot in the Nationals' bullpen -- along with fellow right-hander Christian Garcia and non-roster lefty Bill Bray -- and probably holds the upper hand based on the fact he's out of options and can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers.