Bullpen Feels The Pressure, Takes Lumps

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2008

MIAMI, April 20 -- On April 24 of last year, Washington Nationals reliever Saúl Rivera allowed a solo home run to then-Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Rivera remained in the game, gave up a single and got an out on a sacrifice bunt -- the two batters that began a streak that ended Sunday.

When Florida shortstop Hanley Ramírez stepped to the plate in what became a 6-1 Marlins' victory at Dolphin Stadium, Rivera had faced 428 batters and thrown 99 1/3 innings without allowing a homer, both the longest streaks in the majors. Ramírez, though, drilled a slider to center field, and Rivera's streak was over.

Thus, Rivera was charged with four earned runs in his inning, and he is part of a bullpen that is supposed to be the strength of his team but is struggling.

"They're in a funk right now, and it's really not helping because we're just not scoring enough runs," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "Every time they come in, it's a lot of pressure on them to keep the opposition scoreless."

After Luis Ayala and Rivera combined to give up five runs in two innings Sunday, Nationals' relievers have a 4.62 ERA.

"We just have to keep fighting," Rivera said.

A Day After Starting, Hill Feels Fine

Right-hander Shawn Hill felt no ill effects from his first start of the year Saturday night. "Normal throwing soreness," he said Sunday morning. "I feel fine. For me, right now, I feel pretty good all things considered."

The key, Hill said, is that even the tightness he feels in his forearm doesn't prevent him from throwing any pitch at any time. Scouts who watched Hill's start were impressed. He is next scheduled to face the New York Mets Thursday at Nationals Park. . . .

Acta gave first baseman Nick Johnson and shortstop Cristian Guzmán a day off Sunday, but said he would not soon do so with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman or right fielder Austin Kearns, who homered Sunday.

"Right now, it's just too early to be trying to cure a slump with a day off," Acta said.

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