Nationals Notebook

Nationals Add Villone to Struggling Bullpen

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Looking for another way to Band-Aid their bullpen, the Washington Nationals on Thursday cut a 26-year-old and replaced him with a 39-year-old -- a substitution that tells a lot about both the team's problems and its desperation. This year, the Nationals have received almost no help from the young bullpen arms they were counting on, and have been increasingly forced to rely on stop-gap veterans who didn't have big league jobs two months ago.

The latest move followed that form, as the Nationals designated the struggling Mike Hinckley for assignment and selected the contract of another left-hander, journeyman Ron Villone, who signed a non-guaranteed minor league deal on April 11.

Villone was added to the 40-man roster. Hinckley, who was out of options, will be traded or placed on waivers within the next 10 days; if he clears waivers, he can report to Class AAA Syracuse or become a free agent.

"Well, right now we're just trying to win ballgames," Manager Manny Acta said. "This is not about losing with the young guys or whatever. We're trying to win. [The struggling bullpen] is not fair to us, it's not fair to the whole organization. We're trying to fix our bullpen somehow, someway, and I'm glad we're doing whatever we can."

Hinckley had shown promise during his big league debut last September, throwing 13 2/3 scoreless innings. But that performance didn't carry over, and this year, he walked too many hitters and worked into too many jams. Some 45 percent of the batters he faced reached base. His final outing yesterday ended with his low point -- a bases-loaded 3-2 pitch that slipped from his hand and soared like a kite toward the backstop.

Hinckley is just the latest in a run of bullpen hopefuls to falter; he follows Steven Shell and Wil Ledezma as the latest reliever to be designated for assignment this season.

Villone's ascension to the big leagues continues the flip side of that trend. More and more, Washington is filling its bullpen with veterans signed this spring to non-guaranteed minor league deals. Villone, who last season pitched in 74 games with St. Louis (4.68 ERA), was brought into the organization as a last-resort kind of depth. With Class AAA Syracuse, Villone appeared in eight games, allowing two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings. With Villone in the fold, a full five-sevenths of the Washington bullpen was not in the organization before March 11.

Said Acta: "We're going to continue to make moves until we get things right."

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