Sean Burnett could be the seventh-inning solution
The Nationals need a reliable bridge from their starting pitcher to their dynamite "Clip-n-save" back end of the bullpen. Quietly, left-hander Sean Burnett may be emerging as the reliever who assumes that role.
In his last his six outings, a span of 4 1/3 innings, Burnett has allowed two hits, a walk and no runs. He hasn't allowed a run since before Tax Day. Burnett struggled to find his command throughout spring training and the early portion of the season, when his ERA ballooned to 9.00 after four appearances.
"Nothing's changed," Burnett said. "I knew it was just a matter of, my delivery was a little off. I can't explain it. That's just the way it felt. It seems like these last few weeks it felt better and it's starting to click. You pitch long enough, you know your body when something isn't right."
Tyler Clippard is on pace to pitch 122 1/3 innings in 81 games. If he continues his current workload, "he won't be able to comb his hair by the end of the year," Manager Jim Riggleman said. So the Nationals want to find a reliable alternative, or at least a pitcher they can trust to pitch the seventh inning and save Clippard from having to record outs in both the seventh and eighth.
Riggleman has been hesitant to make Burnett the full-blown regular seventh-inning reliever. One, Riggleman is still hoping Brian Bruney solves his control problems. Two, Burnett is the lone left-handed pitcher in the Nationals' bullpen, and so Riggleman knows he may have to use Burnett to pitch to just one left-handed hitter in a pivotal at-bat at some point earlier in the game.
"He's really gotten better and better each time, though," Riggleman said. "So we could get to a point where we just say, 'You know what? He's our seventh-inning guy, no matter who comes to the plate.' "
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