It’s mid-August, deep into the season, the pressure of a playoff race growing more intense with each week. Including spring training, the Nationals have played 151 games this season, and nicks, bruises and sores are normal. While everyone has a right to be tired, the Nationals bullpen may have one of the strongest cases.
While the Nationals as a whole pitching staff sports the best ERA in the major leagues, the starting rotation is relatively rested. Nationals starters have logged 708 1 / 3 innings entering Thursday’s games — good for the 15th highest total in the majors. In other words, that’s a near middle-of-the-pack workload for the major’s best starting rotation.
The bullpen, on the other hand, has carried a larger relative load. Nationals relievers have thrown 366 2 / 3 innings — the 6th largest total in the majors. (They also carry the 13th best ERA for a bullpen in the majors at 3.39.)
Three of the Nationals relievers rank in the top 20 in innings pitched this season. Craig Stammen is second in the majors with 65 1 / 3 innings, expected for a long reliever. Tom Gorzelanny, another multi-purpose long reliever, has thrown 56 innings (16th most in the majors) and Tyler Clippard, the team’s closer, has logged 54 1/3 innings (tied for 20th most). No other team has three relievers in the top 20 in innings pitched.
With relievers, it’s not just the number of innings but the number of times they’re called upon to warm up and enter the game. In that regard, the Nationals have two relievers in the top 20: setup man Sean Burnett and Clippard with 55 games.
All four are former starting pitchers, with Gorzelanny and Stammen as the most recent conversions, so logging more innings every time they enter the game isn’t foreign to them. But for Clippard, whose 179 1 / 3 innings from 2010 to 2011 was the most of any reliever in baseball, another large workload is not ideal.
Now that the bullpen is nearly whole following injuries, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson has often said that he wants to shy away from using Burnett and Clippard constantly at the end of the game. The biggest key is the progress of Drew Storen, who could spell either late-game reliever if Johnson wants to give them a day off. Johnson has said, at times, that he fears Clippard’s small blip in performance in July could be attributed to being tired — a notion the reliever has denied.
Storen, who missed 89 games with April elbow surgery, has shown incredible movement on his pitches since his return but struggled at times with his command. Even though he rehabbed before re-joining the Nationals, he is basically pitching without the luxury of spring training and the experience of games early in the season. When Storen regains his 2011 form, in which he saved 43 games, he will help take a larger workload away from his teammates. When rosters expand in September, the bullpen could get some extra arms, too.
It’s August, and with more games to come, they likely wouldn’t refuse the help.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
FROM TODAY’S POST
“Since wild cards arrived in 1995, the team with MLB’s best record on Aug. 15 went to the World Series in eight of 17 seasons — almost half. That team won the World Series in five of 17 years — almost a third.” Boz is very excited.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Toldeo 4: Zach Duke allows two runs on nine hits over eight innings, notching his 14th win and lowering ERA to 3.50. Corey Brown, Carlos Rivero and Chris Marrero each collect three hits.
Akron 4, Harrisburg 1: Jose Lozado and Seth Bynum each finish 2 for 4. On rehab, Chien-Ming Wang allows two runs on three hits, walking two and striking out three, over 4 2 / 3 innings.
Salem 8, Potomac 5: Kevin Keyes, Rick Hague, Jeff Howell and Francisco Soriano all collect two hits each. Keyes hit a three-run home run.
Hagerstown 5, Delmarva 3: Third baseman Khayyan Norfork finishes 2 for 4, drives in a team-high two runs. Blake Schwartz allows one run over six innings.
Auburn 12, Mahoning Valley 5: Tony Renda goes 3 for 5 with two RBI and Shawn Pleffner goes 4 for 6 with three RBI. Estarlin Martinez adds three RBI.