Acta Satisfied With Team's Current Setup

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 27, 2007

ST. LOUIS, May 26 -- Ten days ago, some Washington Nationals fans were wondering if Jon Rauch should replace Chad Cordero as the team's closer. Now, there is a new question: Should Jesus Colome replace the struggling Rauch as the team's primary setup man?

"I don't give up on my guys after four bad outings," Manager Manny Acta said. "That was the same case with Cordero. We have to stay consistent with our players."

Rauch, however, has been inconsistent in his past four appearances, a span of four innings in which he has allowed seven runs, pushing his ERA from 3.63 to 5.47. He has been working with pitching coach Randy St. Claire to correct a mechanical flaw. St. Claire, though, believes that problem stems from Rauch's recent tendency to try to bear down too hard with two strikes. He allowed three straight hits in Friday's 5-4 win over St. Louis, all with two strikes.

"He gets to two strikes, and it's almost like he wants to strike the guy out," St. Claire said. "He wants to go harder. . . . He's got to trust and execute."

Colome is doing just that. Cast off last April by Tampa Bay, the hard-throwing right-hander spent last season in the New York Yankees' system. The Nationals signed him in the offseason, and he has been a boon, going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in 25 appearances punctuated by Friday's outing, in which he relieved Rauch and got out of a first-and-second, no-out jam to preserve a one-run lead.

Colome worked on his slider with Nationals special assistant Jose Rijo during the winter in the Dominican Republic, and St. Claire has helped him with his change-up. Those pitches complement his fastball, which he used to throw 100 mph but now has harnessed.

"Now, I think," he said. "I plan before the pitch. I know I don't have to throw hard."

A Familiar Ring

Infielder Ronnie Belliard, who was traded from Cleveland to St. Louis midway through last season, was the subject of a pregame ceremony in which he received a replica World Series ring. Belliard was sized for his ring late, and the real version will arrive within a couple of weeks.

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