Through the injuries and jumbled roles in the bullpen, the Nationals have still managed to field on the best group of relievers in the National League. They lost their closer, backup closer and valued reliever to injury. Now that all have returned, with Drew Storen joining the team this week, finding a spot for all of them is the issue.
It has forced Manager Davey Johnson to shuffle them into their roles. Storen saved 43 games for the Nationals last season but Johnson is trying to ease him back into the bullpen in a setup role.
Up until now, Johnson relied heavily on Sean Burnett as the setup man and Tyler Clippard as the closer. But too often, Johnson said, he has turned to them and hasn’t had the ability to give them much of a break. Johnson has said that part of Clippard’s recent struggle could be partly attributed to overworking him, a notion Clippard has refused to admit, saying he is physically fine.
“Part of my problem is that with the different closers it changes the setup guys and all the kind of stuff,” Johnson said. “I haven’t been pleased with the way I’ve had to set it up the last month or so. And part of that leads to the problem that we had yesterday and that’s because I’ve kind of gone out what I thought was the best scenario rather than what’s the best for the long haul.”
Storen’s return may seem like a bit of a conundrum for Johnson. He has said that Storen will ease back in the eighth inning and that Clippard would remain the team’s closer until he was supplanted.
Storen came off the disabled list on Thursday and pitched the ninth inning with a four-run deficit, so it wasn’t the usual situation he is accustomed to. But in Friday’s loss, Johnson turned to Storen in the eighth inning with a four-run lead. Storen then allowed a single and issued a walk and was pulled for Burnett, who didn’t do much better.
“I need to get [Storen] back to where he was last year,” Johnson said. “Yesterday was an attempt, a little misgiving, to try to expedite that situation.”
In all, five relievers pitched in Friday’s marathon game. Johnson said that all relievers were available in Saturday’s doubleheader but wanted to stay away from long reliever Craig Stammen, who pitched 3 1/3 innings on Thursday.