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NATIONALS NOTEBOOK

Cordero Closes In on His Old Role

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ATLANTA, April 21 -- Chad Cordero pitched a scoreless inning in Monday night's 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves, and though his fastball still didn't exceed 87 mph -- a reading he registered once on the scoreboard radar gun at Turner Field -- Manager Manny Acta may insert Cordero back into his closer's role for his next appearance.

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"He's pretty close," Acta said. "I think that maybe with the adrenaline going of a save situation he might be able to pump the ball a little bit more. He's close to being where he wanted to be."

Acta said before Monday's game that he wanted to see Cordero -- who spent two weeks on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis and has struggled with his velocity since his return -- pitch again before he inserted him into the closer's role that has been his since the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005. With setup man Jon Rauch as the closer, all the relievers' roles are slightly off.

"It's a big-time trickle-down," Acta said. "We do trust Rauch, [but] he's not a closer, and he hasn't been a closer here. Cordero averages 35-37 saves over the last four years. When you have to have Rauch pitch the ninth, you don't have Rauch in the eighth, which a lot of situations have gotten out of hand with us here."

Cordero said he might need more time to warm up because of the lingering effects of the tendinitis. He didn't reach 87 mph until the third batter he faced. But he also considered an inning in which he retired Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and Jeff Francoeur a huge step.

"It's a big confidence boost for me," he said. "I had to go through the heart of the lineup."

Smoltz Set to Strike Back

Braves right-hander John Smoltz has 2,996 strikeouts in a major league career that began in 1988. Wednesday night, he'll go for No. 3,000 against the Nationals. He has 260 strikeouts in 67 appearances, 40 of them starts, against the Washington-Montreal franchise, more than he has against any other opponent. Since the franchise moved to D.C., Smoltz has 89 strikeouts against the Nationals.


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