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Against contenders, no changes in the Nationals bullpen

One of the most pleasant under-the-radar developments of the final stretch of the Nationals season is the success Collin Balester has had out of the bullpen. No, really -- in his last six appearances, a span of 8 1/3 innings, Balester has allowed no earned runs on four hits and three walks while striking out 16.

Balester, in his new role, has been excellent lately, but he has yet to pitch in a vital point in the game. Now may be a good time for the Nationals to find out if he can withstand such pressure, if his recent strong performance is a sign he could become a key to their 2011 bullpen.

But with the Nationals' results having an impact on pennant races, Manager Jim Riggleman does not want to risk using anyone but his usual, reliable back of the bullpen. With Sean Burnett, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Joel Peralta handling key moments regularly, Riggleman does not want to deter at the risk of unfairly swinging a playoff race.

"If we've got a chance to win the game -- we're playing the Phillies -- I've got to use Burnett, Clippard, Storen," Riggleman said. "The opportunities for Balester, [Joe] Bisenius, is going to be more if the game is widespread or if we're playing a non-contending club.

"I really like what Burnett, Peralta, Clippard, Storen are doing. We're trying to win the game. That's my first priority."

By Adam Kilgore  |  September 17, 2010; 6:29 PM ET
 
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Comments

Natinals have 16 games left, 9 of those against teams fighting for the NL East and Wildcard. Those won't be easy at all.

Fighting Showalters have 16 games left, only 6 of those against teams fighting for the AL East and Wildcard. They have a series against a team (Toronto) they just swept, a series against Boston who's packed it in, and a series against Detroit, a team they just took 2/3 from.

I think the O's can easily make up 4 games. Plus the Philles come down the Natinal Park for a 3 game series and you know that's gonna be very much like home games for the Phillies. I wouldn't be surprised to see Natinal Park sold out, filled with 2/3 Philly fans.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 17, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Contrast that with Camden Yards, which you would be surprised to see sold out under any circumstances whatsoever these next few weeks.

Pardon the troll-feeding.

Posted by: faNATic | September 17, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see Riggleman worrying more about this team and what's good for the Nats, than worrying about playoff bound teams. I'm all for trying to win every game, but if playing Balester helps the franchise then why should he care about the Phillies or Braves?

Posted by: DavidandDonald | September 17, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Adam: Nice post on Balester & the bullpen; Thanks. If Balester goes ballistic against the Phillies, I'll start looking at you like a SI cover photo - the 'Kiss of Death".

Posted by: BinM | September 17, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Congrats to the team that shall not be mentioned on tonight's loss. Those hurt a lot more than 9-1 blowouts.

Posted by: nats24 | September 18, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

I earnestly hope Balester becomes a bullpen mainstay, but a cautionary note: Mike Hinkley was lights out in September '08. Didn't give up a run in 14 games. I won't mention what happened in '09.

Posted by: nats24 | September 18, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

I think Balester will be used in 5 more games and 5-8 more innings. He should go against the Phillies either Sat or Sun. He has the stuff and his curve ball is second to none on the Nationals.7 years in the Minor leagues and he is still only 24 years old. The guy just looks like a big league pitcher and now he is pitching like one. Here is a former #1 prospect (2007) that is actually panning out for the Nationals. Good for Balester!

Posted by: Spinman | September 18, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

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