Young Arms Are Providing Welcome Relief

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Starting several weeks ago, the Washington Nationals -- with a bullpen decimated by trades, injuries and ineffectiveness -- decided to restock. In the last month, four relief pitchers have joined the club from Class AAA Columbus. The Nationals wanted to use them, and use them often, because they wanted answers about their long-term value.

Effectiveness, of course, was the best kind of answer.

So far, two bullpen newcomers -- Garrett Mock and Mike Hinckley -- have stood out, and both have used a recent string of scoreless appearances to build a strong case for jobs in 2009.

In 13 games and 16 1/3 innings as a reliever, Mock has a 2.20 ERA and 20 strikeouts. Hinckley, in four appearances since his September call-up, hasn't allowed a run. Manager Manny Acta has singled out both with praise.

Mock has "settled in" to a bullpen role after a minor league career as a starter. Hinckley, meanwhile, twice appeared at critical junctures this weekend against Atlanta, even in situations that didn't fit his forte. A left-handed specialist, he faced six right-handed hitters in his two scoreless innings against the Braves.

"They put me in there with the game on the line," Hinckley said after his most recent performance. "Yeah, it's a big-time confidence booster for sure."

Aside from their results, Mock and Hinckley have little in common. The first is a burly right-hander who's always been well-regarded by management since arriving in a July 2006 trade with Arizona. The latter is a paper-thin lefty who lost his top prospect status after years of baffling difficulties in the minors, and only in the last month has reappeared on the team's radar.

While Hinckley has impressed with his tenacity, Mock has demonstrated the ability to pitch often -- a transition from the regulated schedule he knew as a starter. What happened in Friday night's game shed particular light on Mock's progress. Mock had pitched 1 1/3 innings in Thursday's game, and so when the bullpen phone rang on Friday, he doubted Acta would call on him. But Mock was ordered to warm up.

When he entered, he threw another scoreless inning.

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