Washington Nationals Reliever Joel Hanrahan Finds Himself Back in Form

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES, May 6 -- On April 27, Joel Hanrahan blew a save and took the loss. The next day, he lost his job as the Washington Nationals' closer. But since bottoming out, Hanrahan, pitching in mostly non-pressure situations, has taken a few quick steps to regain his confidence and, all the while, regain a small share of his old role.

With four consecutive scoreless appearances, Hanrahan again has become an option for Manager Manny Acta in eighth- and ninth-inning situations. Though the Nationals received the most immediate boost for their bullpen on Wednesday by activating Joe Beimel from the disabled list, the team still believes that Hanrahan -- if steady, not shaky -- is its most valuable bullpen arm in the long term.

When Hanrahan was originally lowered in the bullpen depth chart, veterans Julián Tavárez and Kip Wells earned (or received by default) responsibility for late, close games. Neither has done much to keep that role -- something Acta emphasized when explaining why Hanrahan will now be reinserted into the closer-by-committee group.

Hanrahan "has pitched well enough for us the last three outings where we think he's fine," Acta said. "Plus, the guys that took over for him, it's not like they have been lights-out."

Since April 28, Hanrahan has pitched four times, a total of 3 2/3 scoreless innings. His latest appearance -- a three-hit inning Tuesday in a tie game against Houston -- was his trickiest. But in a strange way, even that escape reinforced his confidence.

Tuesday "was kind of a funny day," Hanrahan said. "I got away with some stuff finally. It was the first time all year I've gotten some breaks. Any time you give up three hits in an inning, you're probably not supposed to get away from that inning with a zero."

Welcome to Hollywood

The Nationals need bullpen help. In the world of fiction, they're getting it. According to several representatives from Sony on site at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, James L. Brooks's latest film -- currently in pre-production -- will feature, as its main protagonist, a well-paid relief pitcher who plays for the Nationals. Owen Wilson is said to have secured the part.

The movie, described as a romantic comedy, will be filmed primarily in Washington and will include scenes at Nationals Park. Filming will begin in June.

Welcome Back to L.A.

Beimel was activated from the disabled list just in time to face his old team. A Dodger from 2006 to 2008, Beimel still lives in Los Angeles, and spent plenty of time on Wednesday meeting with old friends at the ballpark. But his sentimentality stopped after that: "I'm not gonna eat a Dodger Dog or anything like that," he said.

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