Once Reliable, Bullpen Is Struggling In Homestand

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008

This time, an 0-2 slider continued the slide. Joel Hanrahan, needing just one pitch to end a scoreless inning, instead served up an upper-deck two-run homer to San Francisco's John Bowker that stuck the Washington Nationals in too deep a deficit to overcome.

And in that moment yesterday at Nationals Park, the Nationals didn't just fall behind 6-3 -- a score that proved final. They also continued a homestand-long trend of bullpen work that has reliably turned inherited runners into runs, and close games into unwinnable ones.

In this game, Saúl Rivera entered in relief in the fifth with the bases loaded. All runners scored. When Hanrahan came on, he surrendered Bowker's sixth home run of the season, a blast that followed a Ray Durham double. Though the bullpen has mostly provided the Nationals with stability this season, in the last week, that trend has reversed.

Six games in a row, Washington's relievers have allowed at least two earned runs. Saturday night, Luis Ayala entered a 0-0 game and exited with a 6-0 deficit. In the second game of Thursday's doubleheader, the bullpen blew a lead in the ninth and a tie in the 10th.

"Well, we're just not making pitches," Manager Manny Acta said. "A couple of guys are really struggling to close innings out. I mean, we get two outs and you smell blood, you've got to go for it. And we had some situations where we're giving up way too many runs after two outs and nobody on. Today was another case of it. Hanrahan just left a breaking ball right over the plate."

Hill's Pain Contained

One day after pitching 7 1/3 innings, his most encouraging start in the last month, Shawn Hill said the pain in his forearm was manageable enough to again enable between-starts throwing. Until this week, the season-long injury had forced Hill to rest his arm between starts. He plans to throw in the bullpen on Tuesday. . . .

Relief pitcher Chad Cordero, recovering from a torn muscle in his right shoulder, will head to the team's complex in Florida on Tuesday to begin the first major steps in his rehab. He'll throw in the bullpen on Wednesday.

"As long as everything goes well, I'll throw a simulated game, and then we'll see about a rehab [assignment]," Cordero said. He expects to stay in Florida for at least two weeks. . . .

First baseman Dmitri Young has just one at-bat since Tuesday, an absence explained by a viral sickness that isn't going away. Acta said yesterday that Young will try a different medication.

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