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The state of the overworked Nationals bullpen

Aug 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

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As much as Matt Williams is thrilled to have seen his team win seven straight games, the last three of them in dramatic walk-off fashion, the last two of them in extra innings, the Nationals manager does realize there’s one caveat to all this recent excitement.

“It doesn’t help your bullpen, for sure,” he said following last night’s 5-4, 11-inning win over the Diamondbacks.

Indeed, the state of the Nationals’ bullpen right now is less than ideal. Consider how much the following pitchers have worked…

— Rafael Soriano (4 appearances in 6 days, 77 total pitches)
— Tyler Clippard (5 appearances in 6 days, 51 total pitches)
— Craig Stammen (2 appearances in 3 days, 55 total pitches)
— Matt Thornton (3 appearances in 3 days, 33 total pitches)
— Drew Storen (3 appearances in 6 days, 33 total pitches)
— Ross Detwiler (1 appearance in 2 days, 27 total pitches)
— Jerry Blevins (1 appearance in 4 days, 2 total pitches)

Obviously, the top four relievers on that list are in desperate need of some rest. Soriano was unavailable last night and might be unavailable again tonight as he recovers both physically and mentally from his recent struggles. Clippard can’t possibly be available tonight given his workload. Williams probably doesn’t want to have to use Thornton, as good as he’s been, four straight days. And Stammen would figure to be only a last resort given the three innings he pitched Saturday night and then his wild (and stressful) escape act in the top of the 11th last night.

This becomes one of Williams’ toughest balancing acts as manager.

“We want to make sure we’re mindful of everybody’s health and their load,” he said. “But we get in a situation where we can win a game, we’ve got to try and do that, too. It’s not easy, but it is baseball. That’s why it’s such a wonderful game. We’ve got to play it until the end, until the last out’s made.”

To their credit, Nationals relievers aren’t complaining about the intense workload, or using that as an excuse when they give up a run.

“I don’t think it’s taking a toll,” Stammen said. “We like pitching in close games. All of us, all seven of us, would like to pitch in the ninth inning with the game on the line. That’s what we’re built for, that’s what got us here. So I think we’re excited to take the ball whenever we can.”

Maybe so, but you better believe Williams would love to see Stephen Strasburg go seven or more innings tonight. And he’d also love to see his Nationals hold a sizable lead late, avoiding both high-leverage situations and especially extra innings for a change.

  1. pburm9qp - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Let’s see of Strasburg can take a step forward like a true ace and eat some innings for the team tonight.

    Go Nats!

  2. nats2005 - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Stras has averaged 6 2/3 innings at home, so getting through 7 would be on par.

    I worry about getting a big lead though. Anderson has been pretty good all year and has only given up 1 run in 4 of his past 6 outings and has a 2.19 ERA over that time.

    • masterfishkeeper - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      ERA suggests that this should be a close game. Fancy stats suggest otherwise. Anderson has a 3.16 ERA, but an FIP of 4.28 and an xFIP of 3.76. Strasburg, in contrast, has a 3.53 ERA, an FIP of 2.94, and an xFIP of 2.53. I’ll be rooting for the fancy stats to prevail tonight (as I always am when Strasburg pitches).

      Other thing to note is that Anderson averages less than 6 IP per start, and apparently struggles with his pitch count. Hope we can get his count up early and get into the Arizona bullpen.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        Can you explain why someone’s FIP and xFIP would be so different from ERA?

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:23 PM

        FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) gives a lot of weight to a high K rate and a low BB rate, both of which Stras has.

        But this year he has a relatively high BABIP (.301 career, .336 in 2014) and an abnormally high HR/FB rate (11.3% career, 13.7% in 2014), both of which are driving up his ERA.

  3. Doc - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Time for SS to take a page from the FeisterMeister Book On Pitching.

    Keep his 2-seamer low in the zone, and pitch deep into the game—like about 9 innings.

    Det, Drew, and Blevins are on the front line in relief; after that you’re pushing it.

    Time for a blow-out from our side, with a complete game from Strasburgh.

    No more Strasburgers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. alexva6 - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    “as he recovers both physically and mentally from his recent struggles”

    I wonder what leads Mark to believe Soriano needs to recover mentally? the blogmaster influenced by the bloggers I guess

    • veejh - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      You don’t think that having your a** completely whipped since the ASB would take a mental toll?

  5. Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Good and timely post. First step to bullpen recovery would be a Stras complete game tonight, or at least seven innings. Second step would be the bats busting out so that Blevins and Storen can take the baton after seven and bring it home with low stress. Det can go an inning or even two tonight if necessary.

    Much as I’d like to see a fourth straight walkoff, an easy win would be much better. Plus, I really want them to stomp the necks of the dirty playing D-Backs.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      +1 on each of your separate points (particularly something near a complete game and low stress caused by multiple early runs).

    • ehay2k - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      What are the odds they plunk ALR tonight? Unwarranted, but that has never stopped the D-Backs before.

      • bowdenball - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        I would hope that Matt Williams’ relationship with them would help keep them from engaging in their usual garbage.

    • veejh - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      Stras’ home numbers are great. Let’s hope that continues tonight. We need him to step up tonight, big time.

  6. Smyrcok - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    Any chance they bring up some relief help? I guess we would have heard by now.

    Where’s Ryan Mattheus been this year by the way? Just remembered his bases load no out escape from the NLDS.

    • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:05 PM

      Someone suggested this last night, but who would you DFA or send to the minors to bring up a reliever? Maybe Michael Taylor, and then replace the reliever with Schierholz when the BP is rested? And who comes up. We probably don’t need another lefty, so not Cedeno. Treinen is injured. Taylor Hill doesn’t fill me with warm fuzzies.

      And no, Rizzo is not going to DFA Hairston.

      • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:11 PM

        222, this is for you (and anyone else, of course).

        A blowout would be really nice, especially one on our side, so ALR can pitch. Say, 16-1. OK, I’ll take 11-1.

        I hope Matty remembers Blevins’ existence and doesn’t overuse his new toy, the lefty Matty.

      • Smyrcok - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        Thanks. I didn’t mention a Hairston DFA but hopefully you were just directing that at the first person to think that and not me specifically. Especially right after that walk off win he just had a hand in. If I had to guess, it would be Taylor going down with a reliever coming up. We have September call ups soon anyways so Taylor and Scheirholz should both be here then. If Taylor goes down that unfortunately leaves us a little thin behind Werth.

        So maybe nothing happens on that front.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        As noted earlier, I’m all for ALR crossing that one off his bucket list, eventually…

        “A blowout would be really nice, especially one on our side, so ALR can pitch. Say, 16-1. OK, I’ll take 11-1.”

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        A blowout would be really nice, especially one on our side, so ALR can pitch. Say, 16-1. OK, I’ll take 11-1.

        NO! NO! NO!

    • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      Mattheus is alive and not pitching well at Syracuse. (ERA 6.42, WHIP 1.51).

      • Smyrcok - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:18 PM

        Thanks NL. I hate to see a fall from grace like that after how involved he was in 2012. But that allows new blood to rise to the top in the form of guys like Barrett.

  7. veejh - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    So, the Babe Ruth impression is squarely on Stras’ shoulders. Can he step up to that kind of pressure? This is the most important start of his career.

    • natsfan1a - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:24 PM

      Eh, we’ll still have a pretty high “tragic number” for missing out on the Babe Ruth impression even if it doesn’t happen with this streak. (Good one, though. ;-))

    • npb99 - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:39 PM


    • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      I assume you’re being ironic when you say this is the most important start of his career.” So I’ll add to that — he better step up or they might as well DFA him. He’ll never amount to anything if he goes less than 8 innings tonight.

  8. nats77 - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Over worked bullpen? We can rest SorryAno. Til 2015.

  9. NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    I haven’t done research on this, but I wonder if Soriano is at his best on his second day. So he rests, is a little rusty on his first day back, second day great, third consecutive day–a little rusty. Ideally, you’d use him every other day, or two days running, then an off-day or two, but not more. Unfortunately, the games don’t work that way.

    • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:32 PM

      I mean, third consective day, a little TIRED. (Saw it but couldn’t stop it. IF we can’t have an edit function, can we at least have a preview?)

      • RPrecupjr - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:28 PM

        Um……read your post before you hit the “Post Comment” button?

        Just a thought :)

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    I would have said Treinen except he’s on a short DL and that leaves Taylor Hill as a long reliever.

    If Stras and Gio can’t go deeper in these games you can’t keep adding 4 to 5 inning relief appearances.

    These extra inning games don’t help either of course.

    The person to send down is Taylor. An extra bullpen arm is more important right now.

    I made this suggestion last week that upon Werths return an 8th arm in the bullpen was needed.

    Gio and the extra innings games has taken it’s toll on the bullpen.

  11. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    “Section 222 on August 19, 2014 at 12:21 pm
    Good and timely post. ”

    This has been a problem for over a week. Gio’s 4 to 5 inning outings and the extra innings games have been adding up for a while.

    This is nothing new as you know because you commented on my suggestion last week of beefing up the bullpen.

    • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:26 PM

      Really? This is your contribution to the discussion? To criticize my commendation of our host?

      I guess not only should all of us stop commenting but Mark should stop posting since you’ve raised, analyzed, and resolved every conceivable topic in the comments. Oh wait, he has to post or you’d have nowhere to comment. Come on, you’re better than that.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        The point is this is not timely in my opinion to write a story today. It’s now near crisis situation. This has been an issue growing for a while.

        You kept making up excuses for Gio’s long innings at a point where he had to efficiently get into the 7th inning and could barely make it 5.

        My solution was to beef up the bullpen.

        Why do you worry so much about a DFA of Hairston? If he clears waivers you assign him to AAA and bring him back in 12 days. In the meantime, you need an innings water in the bullpen. That has to be Taylor Hill or add A J Cole to the 40 man and bring him up.

      • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:41 PM

        Well, I thank Mark for the story, and lining up the relievers with their recent appearances and innings. It creeps up on you, whatever the cause. I’d say we could use a rainout, but I’m going tonight, and I’m not sure a doubleheader tomorrow or Thursday would help matters. It’s getting more and more difficult to find common off-days, especially with a Western team, so it would be a double header. and with Treinen on the DL, it would be Taylor Hill coming up, I guess.

      • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        Sorry, but it’s really uncharitable of you, Ghost, to nitpick the my comment in that way, not to mention backhandedly criticizing Mark for the post. But more importantly, the problem for our bullpen was NOT one short outing by Gio. It’s five one-run games out of the last six, including three walkoffs, two of which went 11 innings.

        And I wasn’t making excuses for Gio, his outing just wasn’t that bad on Saturday — 5 innings, 3 runs. One more inning and it’s a quality start. Surely you’re not saying that the bullpen problem stems from his previous outing back on Aug. 10. That’s over a week ago. And he went 4.2 innings and gave up 2 runs.

        For the record I’m not worried about DFAing Hairston. I’d be fine with it. I just know it’s not going to happen, and so do you. It’s not Rizzo’s style. And honestly, I don’t know that it would be such a smart move to do that in order to bring up a another reliever for a few days, especially with Treinen not available, and leave our bench short with Werth in an uncertain condition.

        Even without beefing up the bullpen as you suggested, the Nats have won 7 straight, they sit 17 games over .500 and they are 6 games ahead of the Braves. They have a 99% chance of making the playoffs. This is not a do or die situation. This storm shall pass, and my predictions are:

        1. They don’t DFA Hairston
        2. They don’t bring up a reliever.
        3. The sky doesn’t fall.
        4. They win the NL East

  12. langleyclub - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    Sending down Taylor (or any other position player) would leave the Nats with an exceptionally short bench; especially considering that Werth is still not 100% and that Hairston is a last resort in the field.

    If SS can pitch into the 7th today, and they can get away with only using Blevins (or Blevins and Storen), I think that the tired bullpen issue goes away. If SS gets banged around early or the game is another nail-biter requiring more stressful innings, the Nats will have to bring up Taylor Hill (as mentioned above, Treinen and Barrett are on the MiLB DL, and the remaining pitchers on the 40 man roster are all either on the 60 day DL (Ohlendorf, Davis, Jordan and Purke), are awful (Mattheus) or are left-handed (Cedeno, Solis, Rivero).

    Not a lot of options right now, but if SS can gut out 7+ innings all this goes away (e.g., had Jordan Zimmerman been able to complete the 8th against the awful bottom of D-backs lineup, the bullpen would have been well-rested today). The state of a bull-pen can change with one dominant starting performance.

    • veejh - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:40 PM

      Meanwhile, the Babe Ruth impression looms even larger. Trying times in Natstown.

  13. adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    Let’s not forget the bigger picture, one of the major causes of this problem is because we’re winning a lot of close ones. If we had been getting blown out, we wouldn’t be relying on our top relievers so much.

    • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      So true wonk. We better avoid these seven game winnings streaks in the future. Come to think of it, I hope they lose tonight to save the bullpen.

      Not. :-)

    • natsfan1a - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:31 PM

      Now pitching for your Washington Nationals – Aaa-dam LaaaRoche! (or not)

  14. adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    Here’s a great question that would explode the minds of those who insisted that Span was just another in a long line of loser CF’s: Dukes, Millege, Nyjer:

    Do the Nats have the best (or close to the best) leadoff hitter in the NL?

    Consider: Span is in the top 10 in BA, Runs, hits, 2b, 3b, SB, SB%, AB/K

    In the last 365 days, Span has played in 151 games, scored 100 runs, batted .308. Only 67 K’s in 679 plate appearances. 34/40 SB. .359 OBP.

  15. Pete "Hit 'n Run" Wood - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    Yes, the Gnats do have one of the best lead offs and Cfs in MLB. Span has been outstanding since he arrived.





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