By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
PHILADELPHIA, April 28 -- Joel Hanrahan's tenure as the Washington Nationals' unquestioned closer in 2009 lasted all of five save opportunities. During that time, he blew three victories and combusted with enough frequency that, finally, the Nationals decided they could afford it no longer.
Tuesday, one day after Hanrahan surrendered a game-losing grand slam, Manager Manny Acta said that his team would now finish games -- or at least try to finish them -- with a committee of relief pitchers that includes Julián Tavárez and Kip Wells, both signed in March to non-guaranteed minor league deals. Once Joe Beimel (left hip flexor) returns from the disabled list in the first week of May, he could either join the mix or claim the job for himself.
"Well, what we're going to do is put the veteran guys back at the end of the game and take all the pressure off these young kids and put them earlier in the game," Acta said. "Right now, we're just going to go by committee and matchups at the end of the game."
With Hanrahan now set to appear in lower-pressure situations -- the sixth or seventh inning, most often -- Washington will give the ninth-inning duties to a 32-year-old career starter (Wells) with zero lifetime saves and a 35-year-old do-everything pitcher (Tavárez) who last closed games in 2003. Both, though, figure they've been through enough in their careers to handle their new jobs.
"It's like shooting free throws," Wells said. "If you're shooting for a million dollars, you might be like, 'Oh [expletive].' But if you're at your house, you might just be doing it. You just do what you know to do."
Hanrahan admitted that, as the blown saves piled up, his confidence withered. Before surrendering the grand slam to Raúl Ibáñez on Monday night, Hanrahan feared the possibility of a home run.
"I put some added pressure on myself," said Hanrahan, who had converted nine of 12 save opportunities after being anointed last July as the team's closer. "Anytime you add extra pressure on yourself, you're gonna try to go harder, and when you go harder, it's gonna backfire on you. There is already enough pressure out there as it is, where if you add pressure yourself, you're bound for failure."
With two excellent pitches -- a sharp slider and fastball -- Hanrahan fits the physical prototype for a closer better than anybody else in Washington's organization. Eventually, the team would like him to reclaim the job.
Said acting general manager Mike Rizzo: "The only thing it changes about his role down the line is that he will have to earn his way back to the later innings."