Relievers Pitch In, but Not Too Much

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HOUSTON, May 6 -- No reliever in baseball has been used more frequently than Washington Nationals right-hander Luis Ayala. Heading into Tuesday night's game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, only one pitcher had been used more frequently than Nationals right-hander Saúl Rivera. That would be Ayala.

Balancing the bullpen is a daily concern for Manager Manny Acta, who has a rule that relievers don't appear more than three consecutive days. But as the club heads into the grind of summer, Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire look at much more than just how often their relievers are throwing.

"It's not so much the days, it's pitch count," Acta said. "There are times when those guys don't pitch three days in a row, and still, we don't pitch them because it all depends on the amount of pitches they accumulated over two games."

St. Claire said he doesn't like to use relievers who have thrown 40 or more pitches over a two-day period.

"If a guy throws 24 one night and 26 the next, we shouldn't use him," St. Claire said. "Or, say they go two innings one night and an inning the next, we'll stay away from them."

St. Claire and Acta said Ayala appears all the way back from reconstructive elbow surgery that cost him the 2006 season. He is, thus far, efficient. Though he leads the National League in appearances with 21, he was tied for 19th in pitches by a reliever before Tuesday's game. Rivera, who has appeared 19 times, was fourth in the NL in pitches for a reliever (344).

Bergmann Honored

Right-hander Jason Bergmann was named the International League pitcher of the week for his two starts at Class AAA Columbus in which he allowed no earned runs in 14 innings, posting two wins. Bergmann's performance could turn the focus back to Washington, where Matt Chico (0-5, 6.87 ERA) is set to start Friday against Florida.

Asked about potential changes in the rotation, Acta said, "If we make a change, we'll let you know." Bergmann, demoted to Columbus on April 12, last pitched Sunday, so he would be right on his turn to take Chico's spot if need be.

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