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The ‘pen is mightier at last

May 11, 2010, 4:40 AM EDT


Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Walker came through with two big strikeouts in the Nats' 3-2 win.

NEW YORK — If this game, this white-knuckle 3-2 victory over the Mets at windswept Citi Field, didn't prove that Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps are the Nationals' most valuable players … well, you haven't been paying attention.

And if this game didn't also prove that if the Nats are going to have any chance of maintaining a winning record over the long haul … well, you don't understand the importance of a deep bullpen.

"We like to play, too," Brian Bruney said. "It can't just be the 'Clip and Capps Show' every night."

No, but until Bruney and Co. establish they can enter a tight situation and not ramp up Jim Riggleman's blood pressure, the manager has no choice but to ride Clippard and Capps until their arms fall off.

Perhaps, then, tonight's nip-and-tuck win, with Clippard and Capps both sidelined due to overuse, was the first step toward a more-balanced bullpen. Those two MVPs may still be Riggleman's go-to guys. But perhaps he'll actually consider handing the ball to Bruney or Tyler Walker or Miguel Batista in a competitive situation down the road.

Riggleman has no choice. He can't in good conscience burn out his two best relievers in mid-May. Not if this team has any visions of lingering around a pennant race through the summer. The Nats are going to need Clippard and Capps come July and August and September. To ensure they're still available then, they've got toRead more ยป

  1. hb - May 11, 2010 at 5:01 AM

    Why no mention of the word "Storen?"

  2. Positively Half St. - May 11, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    Today is a day when we don't have to mention Storen, for once. The truth is that we would all be satisfied for Strasburg to start 3-0 like Atilano, as well. We just hope that Storen and Strasburg are more dominant than Batista and Atilano were last night.Speaking of Atilano, I would say that although he probably will go down to Syracuse when Strasburg is called up, we already have gotten good value back in trade for Daryle Ward 3 years ago. It makes me wonder again what we might have received in minor league talent if Jim Bowden had traded Dmitri Young during that one August when he still had trade value.

  3. yankish2 - May 11, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    Nothing more than a bag of balls for Dmitri Young so don't wonder too long. No one in baseball, other than Bowden, would have given him a 2 year contract.

  4. David - May 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    The bullpen preserves the win for Atilano's birthday!

  5. Nats fan in NJ - May 11, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    Not just Storen, but isn't English doing pretty well down in the Minors, too?1 down, 8 more to go on this road trip. How can we not be thrilled with the Nats position? Plus, this is a fun team to root for.

  6. Anonymous - May 11, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    When the cavalry (Strasburg, Storen, Wang, Detweiler, Zimmermann) comes up, Atilano and Stammen and Chico might convert into good long relievers. The Nats have the arms; too many of them are called "starters."

  7. Andrew - May 11, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    I think this team needs to blowout some of their opponents which is the best strategy to rest the backside of the bullpen.

  8. Anonymous - May 11, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    MarkI see the Nats released Mike Daniels from their Harrisburg roster. I thought this guy had some talent but was shoved aside in the almighty push to get Maxwell to the bigs. Did you ever see this guy play and if you did….what did you think. I personally think he got the shaft with the Nats

  9. natsfan1a - May 11, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Good to see some other guys step up from the 'pen. I'm glad they decided to give Clippard and Capps a break. I'd forgotten about Atilano's birthday. Nice gift for him, although the way he was going in the first, I'd not have suspected that would be the result. Ahem.Did anybody have an Elvis wig sighting? I watched a good deal of the postgame, but turned it off before the end. I'd have given it to Pudge, myself.On an unrelated note, was clicking around during the pregame show, and landed on the lineups for the Yankees/Tigers game on ESPN. Number 3 in the Yankees lineup was listed as Johnson, playing RF. Aflac? First, I thought he was on the DL, and second, right field? Clicked back later to see Swisher out there. Yeah, that's what I thought. :-)

  10. Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 - May 11, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    Agree Andrew, too many men lob (of course the METS left more). Bernadina's last AB was a bit pathetic. Dribble called him out on it. Last I heard, NJ was DH'ing for the Yanks and is hurt.

  11. A DC Wonk - May 11, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Why not mention Storen? After all, he did pitch last night, and, "retired all five batters he faced, striking out one."I can understand waiting until June for Strasburg, both on account of that you have to be very careful with a 21-year old starter's arm, as well as six-year-rights and all that.But Storen? It's not like after six years he's going to command anything like Strasburg. And he can be broken in slowly — pitching in the sixth or seventh innings until he gets used to the bigs, etc.Thoughts?

  12. Jack T. in Florida - May 11, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    Not to mention he deserve's some sort of recognition from the club for signing as quickly as he did.

  13. natsfan1a - May 11, 2010 at 1:17 PM

    sec 204, yes, I'd also heard that about Nick the Stick.

  14. Anonymous - May 11, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    Mike Daniel A 188 hitter in his third year in AA, please tell me how the Nats screwed him around. It's a business people.

  15. Sasskuash - May 11, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    I stopped reading at Bruney's quote in the third paragraph. Sorry if this is covered in the rest of the article and/or the comments. His quote really deserves a response:Brian Bruney- SHUT THE F@$K UP!!! You are a waste of a roster space on this team. You are the Daniel Cabrera of 2010. YOU THREW A PITCH SO BAD THAT IT HIT THE BACKSTOP ON THE FLY LAST NIGHT! Just stop talking. I cannot wait until you are DFA'd when Storen comes up. Just shut up until that day.I apologize fore the interruption.

  16. Carl in 309 - May 11, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    Though much of our attention has been on the pitching staff–starters and relievers–and much of the commentary has been generally upbeat, our talk this morning about needing a blowout (in our favor of course!) and some larger late inning leads is what concerns me at present. I was generally of the impression that we would be stronger offensively this season than last and that with the addition of bats like Pudge and Kennedy, we'd be more prolific in scoring. I was struck the other evening, listening to Brett Haver on Channel 9 (and apologies if I've harped on this already), he noted that as the team was going to be trying to get their 15th win (it ultimately took them two tries to get to that number), they were 20 runs behind last year's pace at the corresponding date. 20 RUNS! I can't image that that differential has gotten smaller these few days later. So, what's not happening?I'm ready for a couple of American League East-style wins!

  17. lowcountry - May 11, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    I'm thinking that Pudge doesn't wear a wig, 1a (even though he certainly deserved it).

  18. Pete - May 11, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Not to be a total pessimist, but I'm worried that the adage that water finds its level may prove true with this squad. They bullpen, save Clip and Capps, is pretty bad. The offense goes silent for long stretches. Riggleman has to pull Dunn & Willingham late in games because they're defensive liabilities, which means if you don't hold the lead then the lineup has no punch. I just get the feeling that these one run wins could very quickly turn into one run losses.

  19. Jack T. in Florida - May 11, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    But until they do, enjoy the fact that we are 4 games over .500.Before the season, everyone fretted over the first 40 games and how we'd fare against several play off teams. Now people are fretting over winning by one run.I just don't get it.

  20. Mark Zuckerman - May 11, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    Anon 8:21: I saw Daniel play a couple of times, both in spring training and in the minors. Didn't leave much of a lasting impression. Physically, he's not a real big guy. Seemed like his best hope was to make it as a high batting average guy. A .249 average in three seasons at Class AA didn't bode well for that.

  21. Aeoliano - May 11, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    Actually it looks as if English did not take his demotion well. He has not been one of the better relief guys in Syracuse. Next up will likely be Peralta, Storen, and perhaps Andrew Kown who really deserves Batista's job more than Batista. That's for damned sure. He's only be doing it well both last and this year in Syracuse. Those two should have been swapped.

  22. Steve M. - May 11, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    Adam Kilgore @WaPo wrote…Walker had a 5.51 ERA. The Nationals had lost all nine games in which he pitched. Earlier in the day, Walker changed his number from 25 to 39. His wife told him to get something with a three, because it was lucky. "We're going to mix it up," Walker said.So Walker was an imperfect 9 for 9. Now he is a perfect 1 for 1. The cup is more than 1/2 full my friends.This really does seem like 2005 all over again except there are guys to promote to key spots in the rotation and bullpen. I just don't see offensive help anywhere to promote so Rizzo will have to trade pitching for a RF if the Nats are still competing in 60 days.I think at this point, the offense has to be more efficient with men on base. CARL IN 309 pointing out the team is 20+ runs behind last years pace (with the addition of better offensive personnel) which is the reason the games are so close. Some explanations for the runs deficit: Zim out 1/2 of the games and Dunn's early slump and ZERO production out of RF and Desmond batting .250+ and some credit goes to facing tough opposing pitching early in the season.

  23. Aeoliano - May 11, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Riggleman has been pulling Willingham and Dunn in the later innings because it's been working. Willingham has been less likely to get pulled because of his late inning heroics. But so has Willie Harris in tight games and his UZR in left field is pretty good. Lots of web gems out in left. In right Bernadina, Harris, and Taveras are not hitting well. Its pick one. Only Guzman hits when he is placed out there.

  24. Aeoliano - May 11, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    I just don't see offensive help anywhere to promote so Rizzo will have to trade pitching for a RF if the Nats are still competing in 60 days.Uhhh, look again. Mike Morse, Chase Lambin, and Mench has not been doing badly. Plus Chris Duncan seems to be improving dramatically? According to Rizzo they are going to try to find solutions internally before going outside. Morse is almost done with rehab and he will be returned to the team. The guy raked through two AAA leagues last year and had stats that made him look like Jason Heyward who spent the entire year in AA. So, stop with the really inane AAAA comments? What is out there to play right field … even starting look an awful lot like AAAA to me? Even Upton has now dropped to .245. Werth? Really? Right now your old pal Austin Kearns is looking pretty good by comparison. Get real.

  25. Section 222 - May 11, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    Jack T — to be a Nats fan is to fret. Don't worry about it. I guarantee you that all the fretters are excited about how we're doing. I know I am, and I'm still full of fretting advice.I'm worried about the late game defensive switches too. Seems to me at least one of our big bats should stay in the game unless we're up by more than a few runs. Frankly, though Dunn may be a bigger defensive liability than Willingham, it's more important to get a fleet outfielder in the game than the marginal improvement from Dunn to Kennedy (or Morse when he returns) at the less defensively important first base. I'm all for sending Clip to Anaheim, but we're already seeing a deterioration even though he's gotten lucky and picked up a few wins. Relievers need to be able to put out fires as well as throw a good seventh or eighth inning when they come in at the beginning. Hoping for some improvement there and Bruney's outing last night was encouraging. He is a terrible interview though, I agree.

  26. Anonymous - May 11, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    Stop with the Mike Morse-Jason Heyward comparisons. They are embarrassing. They are nothing alike despite what the numbers tell you. Plus, Morse is like 7 years older and hit in a lot more hitter-friendly league. Not a comparison at all. Stop feeding into the garbage dribble that Peric posts

  27. Steve M. - May 11, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    Aeoliano said… Uhhh, look again. Mike Morse, Chase Lambin, and Mench has not been doing badly. According to Rizzo they are going to try to find solutions internally before going outside. Mench maybe. Lambin is an infielder, can he play RF? Morse will help as he is solid off of the bench where he seems to thrive.The problem with all of these guys are they are "maybes" and not sure things.It's a huge jump from AAA to the MLB. Just look at Bernadina—he was a superstar 2 weeks ago in AAA. With that said, I think Bernadina could work out, just was tough watching a good bunter look little league at trying to sacrifice bunt last night.

  28. Anonymous - May 11, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    i won't fret about all the defensive replacements loss of potential offense in case we lose a late lead. we play small ball in extra innings anyway. if willingham and dunn are replaced, everyone else can bunt and steal bases. that's okay too. i bet capps and clippard have benefitted quite a bit from having the best defense out there each time.hard to complain when it's working. i like an active manager. i think the players do too.longterm

  29. erocks33 - May 11, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    As I see it, the Nats have two immediate concerns with their roster … Marquis and Morse. Morse is due to come off his rehab any time now. Do they call him up, and if so, who do they remove from the 25-man? I would pluck Taveras off (either option him to AAA or release him) as he is not an offensive upgrade and he bats righty like Morse does. Platoon Morse and Harris in right. This keeps Bernadina on the bench to pinch hit/run/defensive replacement.As for Marquis, if his rehab starts go well, who do the Nats take out of the rotation? Stammen and Atilano would be the top two contenders, but both have pitched well enough to keep (not lights out, but they've pitched well enough to keep the Nats in the game). Does Atilano get sent down to Syracuse so he can keep pitching every 5th day? Or do you move Stammen to the bullpen and jettison one of the relievers? Batista could be excised and Stammen made your long-reliever, or they could option Slaten or Burnett down to Syracuse.And don't get me started on what they'll do once Strasburg and Storen come up in June … there's gonna be a slew of moves that'll need to be done in order to bring just these two guys up. Storen will need to be added to the 40-man roster which means someone will have to be removed (Traded? DFA'd?). It's going to be a very interesting next four weeks around here …

  30. Doc - May 11, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    I'd like to see some stats on late inning defensive replacements. Willie Harris in LF, yeah that makes sense. Kennedy replacing Dunn, less so. Dunn is probably, at this point, equal to or greater than Kennedy at defense. Its a different AD with the glove this year. Kennedy vs Dunn with a bat–not much of a contest there, particularly if the game goes into extra innings.

  31. Anonymous - May 11, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    Mark, given the prominence of the silver Elvis wig has been given, it might be nice to share with us who got it. I generally assume it is Debbi Taylor's first interview, but can't be sure.

  32. Mark Zuckerman - May 11, 2010 at 9:12 PM

    Anon: To be honest, I often don't get to see the Elvis wig. Seems like the criteria is that the player wear it while being interviewed on MASN. Sometimes, they keep it on for the mass interview in the clubhouse, but often that hasn't been the case. Probably for the best, because it's kind of hard to keep a straight face listening to those guys talk with that thing on their heads!

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