Washington Nationals Relieve Joel Hanrahan of His Closer Duties

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 7, 2009

Joel Hanrahan has faced plenty of pressurized situations this year. The problem is, his effectiveness depends on avoiding them. The Washington Nationals, convinced of as much, yesterday removed their on-again, off-again closer from the ninth-inning role -- perhaps this time for good. Hanrahan, a hard thrower whose confidence has been sometimes questioned, will pitch for the foreseeable future in lower-pressure situations.

With Hanrahan out, Mike MacDougal, a former all-star closer with the Kansas City Royals, will take over the ninth-inning role. The decision came one day after Hanrahan demonstrated his vulnerability and MacDougal, in the two batters he faced, looked fearless. MacDougal on Friday struck out pinch hitter Gary Sheffield on three pitches -- all biting fastballs that traveled at least 96 mph. Then, in the 10th inning, Hanrahan yielded two runs, took another loss, and inflated his ERA to 6.84.

This is the second time this year that Hanrahan has lost the closer's job, and this time, there was no immediate talk of nurturing him back into the role.

"We won't even think about that right now," Manager Manny Acta said. "I told him, just be ready to pitch whenever we want to, and not have any agenda about getting back or how many days, how many weeks, how many months. Just pitch. Have fun and help the team in any way you can."

Before last night's game, Acta spoke with both Hanrahan and MacDougal. Hanrahan understood the move, Acta said, but the 27-year-old right-hander later had little to say. "Nothing for you. I've been through it before. Same thing. That's your line." MacDougal, meantime, called the new role "an honor," and added, "I'm glad to do that, and hopefully it works out well."

MacDougal has taken a roundabout journey to the closer's job, but the 32-year-old fits in well with a bullpen composed primarily of retreads and low-paid veterans. Released by the Chicago White Sox at the end of April, MacDougal signed a non-guaranteed contract with Washington, spent three weeks with Class AAA Syracuse, and then was promoted to the big leagues on May 28. In four games (and 2 2/3 innings) since then, MacDougal has yet to allow a run.

"Well, he's got some nasty stuff," Acta said. "He's got that ball sinking in the mid-90s. He's got the slider and change-up. And if he stays consistent in the strike zone it's very tough to hit this guy. I think we saw a very small sample last night when he came in and just threw three fastballs to Sheffield. But those aren't your average fastballs. They're moving all over the place. He's got experience in the past, and we're going to give him the opportunity to do it."

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