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Posted at 09:59 PM ET, 03/25/2011

Some clarity on the Nationals’ closer situation


VIERA, FL-February 22: Sean Burnett (17) of the Washington Nationals delivers a pitch during batting practice on February 22, 2011 in Viera, Fl. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) (Jonathan Newton - WASHINGTON POST)
Drew Storen jogged in from the bullpen tonight and convinced himself he was pitching a regular-season game. “That’s why I like pitching the ninth in spring training games,” Storen said. “I’m able to kind of get in that groove.”

Storen, after capping an uneven spring with recent dominance, has reason to prepare for the ninth inning. While not rigidly defining any roles, Manager Jim Riggleman added some clarity to the Nationals’ closing situation tonight. For now, he plans to rely mostly on Storen and Sean Burnett to close games.

“If there were a couple lefties up and then a righty, I’d probably start the inning with Burnett and then go to Storen,” Riggleman said. “If it was a couple righties and then a lefty, I’d probably go to Storen and just let him run with it.

“It probably depends on what happens with the eighth. If you’re winning in the seventh and eighth and you felt, ‘My best chance to get out of this is to use one of those guys,’ I think we need to be able to use them. Sometimes, the save comes in the seventh or eighth.”

Riggleman also did not rule out using Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard in a closing role. It seems as though Riggleman wants to avoid bestowing the title of closer on one of his relievers to keep his late-inning options open. Rather than save his best reliever for the end of games, he wants to be able to employ him at the highest leverage point possible.

“We’re still not going to paint ourselves into the corner where we say, ‘This is what it is,’ ” Riggleman said. “We’re going to let it play itself out.”

As for tonight, Storen was excellent. He pitched his second straight 1-2-3 inning, striking out two Cardinals with an exceptional biting slider and fine location with his fastball. That those pitches worked in tandem was not a coincidence.

“They kind of come together,” Storen said. “The ability to get on top of the fastball and command it down in the zone, when I do that, it gives me the ability to make my slider move. I was pushing through my slider, trying to yank it through the zone, instead of letting it naturally bite. I think they kind of come hand-in-hand.”

>>> Chad Gaudin made his first full-fledged relief appearance, coming in for Tom Gorzelanny to pitch the seventh. He retired all three batters he faced, two flies to left and a grounder to second. Gaudin hoped he would earn a starting spot at the start of camp, but he is perfectly willing to pitch in relief.

Throughout his career, Gaudin has toggled between starting and relieving. In 2006, he pitched 55 games in relief, none as a starter. The next year, he made 34 starts and zero relief appearances. He did make any starts last year. Of his 81 appearances combined in 2008 and 2009, 31 were starts.

So, yeah, Gaudin can perform either role. But it does take some adjusting, which made tonight’s inning a necessary checkpoint.

“It’s good to get some innings out there,” Gaudin said. “You don’t have that luxury to go in and walk a guy or give up a hit. You have to go in nails, ready to go, like you’ve been pitching for five innings. It’s an adjustment that has to be made from starting to the bullpen. I’ve done it before, and I’m comfortable doing that.”

>>> Tom Gorzelanny’s spring is done, and he finished strong tonight against the varsity Cardinals lineup. They brought Ryan Theriot, David Freese, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, who Gorzelanny struck out twice. Gorzelanny allowed two runs – after a Holliday walk and a Freese opposite-field home run – but aside from that blip, he cruised. He struck out five, allowing four hits and a walk.

As the Nationals’ fifth starter, Gorzelanny will not pitch in a game again until April 6 at the earliest because of two off days earlier in the year. He said that shouldn’t be a problem, and he assumes he’ll probably pitch a simulated game at some point to stay sharp.

By  |  09:59 PM ET, 03/25/2011

 
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