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Posted at 06:31 AM ET, 04/07/2011

The Nationals’ bullpen a ‘work in progress’

Building a bullpen can be, usually is, a crapshoot. No players are more volatile year to year than relievers. Last year, after so much futility with their relief, the Nationals struck gold. Their bullpen punched up a 3.33 ERA despite pitching more innings than any other. They could summon any pitcher and know leads would be protected or the game would remain in hand.

Five games into this year, the comfort of opening the bullpen gates has been replaced with doubt. The Nationals’ bullpen allowed two more earned runs last night, three in total. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen were not available, and that presented the main problem the Nationals face in the bullpen. Already, they are too reliant on their top relievers.

Clippard, Storen and Sean Burnett have allowed one earned run in 9 2/3 innings, a 0.93 ERA. The rest of Washington’s bullpen has surrendered 11 in 6 1/3 innings, a 15.63 ERA.

“There’s seven of us in the bullpen, last I checked,” Todd Coffey said. “There’s not three. It’s going to take every one of us to help us win. It’s going to take more than one guy, two guys, three guys.”

“It’s still a work in progress,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “We’re going to have to be able to rely on some other guys. I really have a lot of confidence in Coffey. Gaudin is throwing the ball free and easy, the ball’s coming out of his hand good. We just weren’t able to put a zero on the board. It’s got to work itself out. It’s going to be a complete effort out of those guys. Everybody has to pick each other up.”

Help might be on the way. At some point, we’ll find out what Henry Rodriguez and his 100-mph arm can really do, for better or worse. Cole Kimball could arrive. Collin Balester could arrive sooner.

The fact that Balester is not already on the team has become something an issue. When the Nationals optioned him to Class AAA Syracuse, they admitted to him that he had done enough to make the team and he belonged in the majors. Last season, he allowed two earned runs and struck out 23 in his final 16 2/3 innings.

Brian Broderick had a wonderful spring training and may help this season. He’s proven himself a player worth keeping in the organization. But right now, the Nationals seemingly will not use him in a meaningful spot. They may be best served trying to swing a trade with the Cardinals in order to keep Broderick, a Rule 5 pick, then send him to Class AAA Syracuse so Balester can have a spot.

Somehow, unless things turnaround, the Nationals are going to need another arm they can trust in the bullpen. Barring injury, the soonest a player who is optioned in spring training can be recalled to the majors is April 10, so Balester could be recalled by Sunday at the earliest.

Such a strength last year, it would have been hard to imagine the bullpen potentially needing help this soon in the season. But bullpens change quick, and the Nationals may find themselves needing to make one to theirs.


The Nationals blew a four-run in their latest loss to the Marlins, a 7-4 defeat that dropped them to 1-4.

By  |  06:31 AM ET, 04/07/2011

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