Results tagged ‘ bullpen ’

Nats bullpen strong again, but eventually snaps

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Nationals relievers came into Friday with a 2.56 ERA that ranked first in the Majors, and after Drew Storen surrendered a leadoff double to the Braves’ Tommy La Stella in the seventh inning, the bullpen set down the next 18 in a row.

That performance set the stage for Washington to rally and send the game into extra innings, but eventually, manager Matt Williams found himself backed into a corner.

When the 13th inning rolled around, Williams already had used Storen, Craig Stammen, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins. His options at that point were to send Blevins out for a second frame, use rookie Aaron Barrett for a fourth consecutive day or turn to Ross Detwiler, who threw 45 pitches on Wednesday and has allowed 16 runs and 35 baserunners in his last 16 2/3 innings. As such, Williams admitted he felt he needed to stick with Blevins.

“You could go to Barrett four days in a row, but that’s dangerous,” Williams said.

A second inning probably wasn’t ideal for Blevins, either. The lefty had allowed a run on three hits in two-thirds of an inning on Thursday, throwing 18 pitches and taking a comebacker off his knee. He then used another 12 pitches during a 1-2-3 12th inning on Friday.

Blevins issued a leadoff walk to B.J. Upton, then gave up two consecutive hits and eventually two runs. Still, he didn’t offer any excuses.

“Everybody’s tired,” he said. “We’re in the 13th inning. Their guys have been going the whole time our guys have. Gotta step up, but I didn’t get the job done. Gave up a couple runs, didn’t get it done.”

Looking ahead, the bullpen could be in some trouble for the rest of the series if it needs to soak up significant innings. Blevins and Stammen both have worked on consecutive nights, while Clippard, Soriano and Barrett have pitched in three out of four. That leaves Storen and Detwiler as the freshest arms available, barring a roster move.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

Who will be the odd man out in the Nats bullpen?

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Lost in the Nationals’ 5-1 defeat against the Pirates on Tuesday night was news that reliever Ryan Mattheus, who has been out since May after breaking his hand while punching a locker, will in all likelihood return to the team on Friday, according to manager Davey Johnson.

The Nationals are allowed to add a 26th man to the roster for their doubleheader against the Mets, and Johnson said that it will be Mattheus. But what the team decides to do after the game will be far more interesting.

Johnson has finally reached a level of comfort with his bullpen. He has regularly praised left-handers Fernando Abad and Ian Krol, as well as long reliever Ross Ohlendorf. But when Mattheus returns, someone will have to go. Here are a few of the possibilities:

Taylor Jordan: After Tuesday night’s start, Johnson said that Jordan had earned a spot in the rotation. The 24-year-old is 0-3, but he has a 3.68 ERA through five starts and has improved every time out. The problem is that after undergoing Tommy John surgery in Sept. 2011, he is also on an innings-limit. General manager Mike Rizzo refused to specify how many innings Jordan has left, but the Nationals might decide to let him reach that limit at Double-A Harrisburg. They could then slide Ohlendorf into Jordan’s spot in the rotation while Ross Detwiler continues to rehab a stiff back.

Krol: Krol, like Jordan, has absolutely earned his spot on the big league club. He has allowed just four earned runs in 16 1/3 innings of work with a 2.20 ERA. But like Jordan, he is young (22 years old) and would not be distraught by a return trip to the Minors. Johnson loves having two lefties out of the ‘pen, but if for whatever reason he decides that he can make do with one, the Nationals might opt to demote Krol rather than risk losing 27-year-old Abad.

Drew Storen: This is the most unlikely option of them all, as 25-year-olds with closer experience are incredibly hard to find. But if Rizzo and Johnson decide that they want to add a left-handed bat off the bench before the July 31 trade deadline, Storen is one of the few movable pieces that could help them make that happen. He’s been rattled for much of this season, but he still has the upside and youth that make him a valuable bargaining chip.

After two tough outings, Storen bounces back

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

After a pair of disappointing performances, the cheers for Nationals reliever Drew Storen started sounding less like “Drewwwwww” and more like “Boooooo.”

Storen gave up four runs in one inning on Tuesday against the Brewers and three runs — including two homers — on the Fourth of July. He looked like a shell of his former self, hanging breaking balls over the middle of the plate and ignoring pitching coach Steve McCatty on visits to the mound. His ERA increased to 5.40 from 3.82.

Then, with a one run lead against the Padres on Saturday, Storen retired the side with five pitches.

“That’s what I was talking about,” manager Davey Johnson said. “His stuff is too good. He doesn’t need to try to trick ‘em. He said, ‘Here’ and that was the highlight film of my day.”

Storen threw one pitch each to Carlos Quentin and Chase Headley, both of whom lined out to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Then Storen struck out Jesus Guzman with three pitches: two sinking fastballs and a slider.

“Anytime you can get it right to contact and get them to hit it right to guys, especially on a hot day, you can’t complain about that,” Storen said. “You knew you just had to attack guys in the zone. You sink it down in the zone. Hopefully those guys hit it on the ground and let our defense take care of it.”

Johnson and McCatty have noticed a change in Storen’s approach the season. The Nationals’ skipper has told his former close to stop throwing and start pitching, trust his fastball and attack hitters. After Saturday’s outing, Storen said that he got the message loud and clear.

“I thought he had a good point,” Storen said. “I’m trying to pitch around guys. I have good enough stuff. I just need to attack hitters and we have a great defense behind you. There’s no reason to be pitching around anybody.”

Why Storen’s scoreless inning mattered

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Thursday night’s game featured two young aces, two home runs, two wall-crashing catches, a game-saving snag, a sacrifice squeeze and a small fire. So in the middle of all that, it would have been easy to miss (or see and eventually forget about) Drew Storen’s scoreless eighth inning.

Storen struck out the top of the D-backs lineup, setting down Gerardo Parra, Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt in order with 15 pitches. Storen struck out the side for the first time all season, but that’s not what made his outing noteworthy. He also kept the game tied at 2, though that’s not what made it important.

Storen’s scoreless eighth inning mattered because for perhaps the first time all season, he pitched like a closer. He was nothing short of dominant, attacking the strike zone with four different pitches — including the changeup that he developed last season. He finished all three of his strikeouts with offspeed stuff: changeup, slider, changeup.

“When I got hurt last year, I told myself I had to work on a changeup because you see these guys and they make adjustments to you,” Storen said. “No matter how good your breaking ball is, if they’ve seen you a couple times, it’s not really going to do you a whole lot of good. So you’ve got to be able to have something else to throw in there and get somebody out with your fastball, and that’s been working out pretty well so far.”

One of the lasting images of the 2012 season is Storen sitting alone at his locker after blowing a save in Game 5 of the NLDS. His confidence was shaken, and he continued to struggle early in the season. After Thursday night, it looks like he might have turned a corner. He has not allowed an earned run in 14 of his past 15 appearances.

“He’s starting to pitch more instead of just throw, which he did for me in 2011,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He was good against both left and right [handed hitters], and this year I think coming back, starting a new role, he was just more interested in trying to overpower them.”

The Nationals have bolstered their bullpen with lefties Fernando Abad and Ian Krol, whose reliability as the season wears on could play a significant role in this team’s fate. But a confident, closer-ready Storen is the key. If he returns to old form, he will have a stabilizing effect on the bullpen and give Johnson some much-needed wiggle room late in the game.

After all, not everybody is cut out for high-pressure situations — like, for instance, the eighth inning of a tie game against one of the best teams in the National League. Storen, however, lives for it.

“I’ve always kind of thrived off that, I always enjoy pitching in those situations,” he said with a shrug. “I guess that’s a good thing to have.”

Nats’ McCatty not worried about bullpen

The Nationals’ relievers are off to a slow start, allowing 20 runs in 21 2/3 innings entering Wednesday action against the White Sox. Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen are the only pitchers in the bullpen with an ERA of 3.00 or lower. After seven games last year, the relievers allowed just six runs in 20 1/3 innings.

As recently as Tuesday night, the Nats’ bullpen allowed six runs to the White Sox. The big blows came when Paul Konerko hit a three-run homer off Tyler Clippard, while Rafael Soriano allowed a two-run homer to Alex Rios.

But pitching coach Steve McCatty isn’t worried about the bullpen and feels it will get its act together soon. All that matters to McCatty is that the Nationals are winning. The team is 5-2 entering Wednesday’s action.

“Yesterday was two mistakes and we didn’t hit our spots – fastball in and a slider away,” said McCatty who was referring to Clippard and Soriano. “Do I have any concerns? No. Could they do better? Sure. But it’s still early. Clip didn’t give up a run all spring, so something is going to happen. Sori has a little tweak in his leg and that is not an excuse, but it was a pitch we knew you can’t throw that kind of mistake — breaking ball that spins over the plate. He left it in there.

“Everybody is looking at the first seven games that we are playing. Could we be sharper? Sure. Is there a reason to doubt it? No. There is going to be stretches during the season, where everybody is going to have their moments where everything is clicking together. But fortunately, the offense has been good enough that we are still able to get the wins.”

McCatty said he doesn’t have any concerns about anyone in the bullpen, including Henry Rodriguez, who is coming off elbow problems.

“Henry has done better. His arm is feeling fine,” McCatty said. “With him, every once in a while, he has a tendency to overthrow. We know that. But the next time out [against the Reds] he threw nine pitches. So it’s an on-going thing with him. He is still a young kid and learning what he needs to do every time. Am I concern about him? No. He has unbelievable stuff. He has to learn how to harness it.”

Nationals plan to revamp bullpen

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo revamped the bullpen twice this season because the relievers had problems getting hitters out.

The bullpen has improved after the second round of changes, but look for Rizzo to make more changes this offseason.

Entering Tuesday action against the Phillies, the Nationals’ relievers have a combined 5.17 ERA and 25 saves. Washington’s most productive relievers have been Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Mike MacDougal, but it needs more than those three guys to be successful in 2010.

The other five relievers on the 25-man roster — Jason Bergmann, Victor Garate, Jorge Sosa,  Ron Villone and Saul Rivera — will either not be back with the team next year or have to prove once again that they belong on the big club.

“I think it’s a major point of emphasis for the offseason,” Rizzo said. “We have gotten better. We kind of revamped the bullpen and the difficult time to do it is during the season. I think we have done a good job of that. We have many more capable hearts than we did at the beginning of the season. But I’m certainly not satisfied with it.”

Rizzo did not say which relievers he was interested in this offseason, but one person who could help the Nationals is right-hander Drew Storen, the team’s first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

He had a phenomenal first season in professional baseball, going a combined 2-1 with a 1.95 ERA, eight saves and 49 strikeouts in 37 innings for Class A Hagerstown, Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. Storen is considered the Nationals’  closer of the future.

“We are starting the building process [in the Minor Leagues]. We have the makings of guys we can rely on,” Rizzo said.                   

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