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The Nationals 'pen is growing mightier

Morning roundup

The Nationals bullpen, as currently composed and operating, is as good as it has been this season. Since they designated Brian Bruney and called up Drew Storen, the Nationals' bullpen ERA is 2.55 in 13 games. Despite a loss yesterday, the 'pen showed off how effective and versatile it can be.

The Nationals had a chance to beat the Padres because after Livan Hernandez submitted another strong start - two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings - the bullpen escaped a significant jam in a harrowing seventh, and then didn't allow an earned run for 4 1/3 innings.

In the seventh, Hernandez yielded a leadoff single to Tony Gwynn Jr. Lance Zawadski followed with a sacrifice bunt to third, and Ryan Zimmerman made a rare error, which allowed another sacrifice - handled easily by Zimmerman - that pushed runners to second and third base with one out in a tie game. Manager Jim Riggleman summoned left-handed Doug Slaten from the bullpen to face lefty Will Venable.

The Nationals needed a strikeout, and Slaten, in his most pivotal appearance since the Nationals called him up from Class AAA Syracuse, provided it. Venable swung under a chest-high, 91-mph fastball, then slammed the barrel of his bat on the ground.

Slaten had done his job, and now Storen had to do his - one out, and on to the eighth. From the first pitch, facing Jerry Hairston, he was erratic. With the count full, catcher Wil Nieves set up on the outside corner, and Storen fired a 95-mph fastball well inside, some three feet off target.

As pitching coaching Steve McCatty came to the mound, reality set in: Storen had walked a .236 hitter to face Adrian Gonzalez, one of the best sluggers in the National League. Storen pumped five fastballs that built another 3-2 count. Roars cascaded from the stands. As Storen raised his front foot, the runners bolted.

Storen chucked another fastball, and the roars grew louder when Gonzalez clobbered a line drive to center. Nyjer Morgan took a few steps, crouched against the sun and snared the ball. The inning, and Storen's adventure, had ended. His mother Pam sent an apt tweet on her account: "Well, lived through that."

The Nationals bullpen made it easy from there. Tyler Clippard steamed through two innings, facing the minimum thanks to a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play in the eighth. After his hiccup a couple weeks ago, Clippard has reverted back to the untouchable force he was earlier in the season. In his last six appearances, a span of 7 1/3 innings, Clippard has allowed two hits and a walk.

"I feel good man," Clippard said. "I feel comfortable with what I'm doing."

FROM THE POST

The Nationals offense couldn't score a run before a few bad breaks hurt them in a 3-2, 11th-inning loss to the San Diego Padres.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 6, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 4: Chase Lambin went 2 for 3 with a double and is now hitting .327. Ron Villone, Mike MacDougal, Jason Bergmann and Joel Peralta combined for five innings of scoreless relief, with only MacDougal allowing one hit. Peralta has 15 saves and a 0.78 ERA.

Harrisburg 8, Erie 6: Tim Pahuta went 2 for 4 with two home runs. Chris Marrero went 2 for 5. Rafael Martin struck out two in 1 1/3 perfect innings, lowering his ERA to 2.84.

Potomac 7, Salem 3: Michael Burgess went 3 for 4 with two doubles and thre RBI. He has an .846 OPS. Patrick Lehman allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings on five hits and no walks, striking out eight.

Greenville 6, Hagerstown 1: The Suns had just three hits. J.R. Higley went 1 for 3 with a home run. Trevor Holder allowed three runs in six innings on seven hits and a walk, striking out five.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

The Nats loss yesterday showed who they are, writes Mark Zuckerman.

The Nationals offense has been sputtering, Ben Goessling writes.

Fire Jim Bowden notices that no one is worried about the Nationals drafting and signing Bryce Harper.

By Adam Kilgore  |  May 31, 2010; 8:13 AM ET
 
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Next: Today's lineup

Comments

Is that an SNL Jeopardy/Sean Connery reference in the post title? Wow, nicely done. And how long have you been sitting on that one?

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | May 31, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Chase Lambin is looking more and more like the next call-up from Syracuse (other than Strasburg, of course). The main impediment for him, other than the fact that he is 31 and has never played in the majors, is that he is not on the 40-man roster. It is much easier to yo-yo Justin Maxwell on that shuttle.

Since Luis Atilano has earned the right to stay on the major league roster, are we looking at Miguel Batista taking the dive when Strasburg is called up in a week?

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | May 31, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

+1/2 St.

If Strasburg gets the call after his 6/3 start in SYR, it looks like he lines up with JD Martin in the current rotation. I'd still think that Atilano & Stammen need to pick it up to stay with the big club, once Olsen gets healthy; Batista still has his uses in the bullpen.

The Nationals are kind of in a bind in terms of bench replacements; Bernadina & maybe Morgan are the only players with options left, IIRC. In order to purchase a player like Lambin or Mench, somebody else gets DFA'd.

Posted by: BinM | May 31, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Yes the bullpen is doing stellar work but it doesn't matter when you're not getting any run support there must be something in the air because the hard hitting Phils have been shut out four times in the past 8/9 games the old addage of good pitching stops good hitting still holds true.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 31, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

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