Problematic Bullpen Gets Minor Makeover

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 25, 2008

CHICAGO, Aug. 24 -- The solution is neither certain nor quick. But then again, certainty in Washington's bullpen departed long ago -- perhaps when Chad Cordero lost his season to injury, perhaps when Jon Rauch got traded, perhaps when Luis Ayala became first ineffective, then expendable.

With the onetime core of its bullpen now missing, the Washington Nationals have committed themselves to a new course: They're searching through a surplus of minor league starters to fill their void of major league relievers. For the short term, it means an unproven bullpen comprising pitchers such as Garrett Mock and Marco Estrada.

General Manager Jim Bowden hinted that come September, when rosters expand, a few more minor league starters will be shuffled into the bullpen.

"We're in a situation where we have to completely rebuild a bullpen from scratch, and that's what we're doing," he said. "We'll start with [closer Joel] Hanrahan on the back end, but [continue] with Estrada and Mock and there will be a couple more who come up here and do the same thing. So there are going to be growing pains with that. There's an adjustment period."

Mock has been with the team since Aug. 7. Estrada has been with the Nationals since Aug. 18. Both are 25. Both have ERAs of 6.00 or higher, though neither has pitched enough to be fairly evaluated -- especially Estrada, who has appeared in just two games. The two also share this: Though they grew up as starters, they are just fine with a conversion if it lets them stay in the big leagues.

"We just can't fit every one of our prospects in our starting rotation," Manager Manny Acta said.

Young Working Out

The Nationals believe that first baseman Dmitri Young, sidelined since mid-July because of complications from diabetes, will be able to rejoin the major league team in 10 to 14 days.

On Saturday, Young arrived in Melbourne, Fla., and he is now beginning a program to improve his fitness.

"We're getting him into baseball shape right now, full steam," Bowden said.

Hill Isn't Ready

Pitcher Shawn Hill won't be ready to rejoin the Nationals by the start of September, as the team had hoped, but could be ready to pitch by Sept. 10. Hill has been on the disabled list since June 26 because of forearm trouble.

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