Over the past seven games, Nationals starters have produced many fine performances, led by the dominating starts of Jordan Zimmermann and strong outings of Dan Haren and Stephen Strasburg. In each of Zimmermann’s last three starts, he has tossed at least seven innings. Haren followed up an eight-inning game last week with six strong-enough innings on Thursday. In that span, starters have averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per outing. And the Nationals’ record in that span, not surprisingly, is 6-1.
But because of the excellence of the starting pitching, one group of the team has been largely ignored: the bullpen. They’ve watched from their corner of the stadium, which has stirred only occasionally over the past week or more.
Drew Storen’s scoreless eighth inning on Thursday was only his second game in the past 11 days. After six days off, Ryan Mattheus’s Thursday appearance was only his second in 12 days. Tyler Clippard pitched in back-to-back games in Pittsburgh over the weekend, but those were sandwiched by multiple days off before and after.
Left-handed long reliever Zach Duke, who was up and throwing in the bullpen during Thursday’s game, hasn’t pitched in 10 days. Henry Rodriguez hasn’t appeared in a game in the same span. Right-handed long reliever Craig Stammen hasn’t pitched in a week, and only once in the past 12 days.
“It’s feast or famine,” Storen said. “That’s the name of the game in the bullpen. That’s when it comes down to being able to manage it.”
The lone reliever to receive regular work is Rafael Soriano, who has pitched in six of the past seven games. He saved the final two games in Atlanta last week, picked up another save in Pittsburgh and completed another win. And in back-to-back games against the Tigers, he picked up his 11th and 12th saves.
The bullpen’s lack of work has reached a point that when Manager Davey Johnson has walked through the clubhouse this week, relievers have jokingly re-introduced themselves. “‘I’m Ryan Mattheus,'” Johnson said he was told, laughing. “‘Oh, how you doing? I haven’t seen much of you lately.’”
“A lot of them are my long relievers and that’s a good sign,” Johnson added. “These bullpen guys, I tell them all the time, ‘When it rains it pours out there, boys. So make sure you get your throwing in.’ Those guys in the bullpen play 10, 15 minutes of catch every day. They carried that through from spring training. But some guys get too strong and start overthrowing. … They know I understand what they’re going through.”
Over a month into the season, the Nationals have yet to find complete consistency. After an inconsistent start, the starting pitching has been in a better groove of late. The bullpen, whose roles were reconfigured this season, is still adjusting around the starters. With time, the starters will settle in, Johnson assured, and the entire pitching staff will fall in line and receive its share of work. But in the ebb and flow of a long season, there are periods of light work followed by heavy workloads. And now, tumbleweeds have rolled through the bullpen.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” Storen said. “I’m feeling consistent. When the workload is up in the air and kinda of a lot of different games, with our starters throwing so well and all the arms in the bullpen, I wouldn’t be surprised if you talked to me in a week and I wouldn’t say I needed a couple days.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Durham 4, Syracuse 2: Ross Ohlendorf allowed four runs on seven hits over eight innings, walking four and striking out four. Eury Perez went 3 for 4. Micah Owings smashed a solo home run, his third of the season.
Harrisburg 6, Binghamton 1: Paul Demny and Ian Krol combined to no-hit the Mets. The lone run was unearned because of a throwing error. Demny walked three and struck out five over eight innings. Krol fanned two in the ninth. Rick Hague went 2 for 4 with two RBI. Paul Demny, Anthony Rendon, Sandy Leon and Destin Hood each also drove in a run.
Potomac 3, Wilmington 2: Starter Brian Dupra allowed two runs on six hits over six innings, walking none and striking out one. Matt Grace and Derek Self each pitched two scoreless innings of relief. Billy Burns and Jason Martinson each drove in a run. Leadoff hitter Burns is hitting .291.
Hagerstown 3, Delmarva 1: Dixon Anderson allowed only one run on seven hits over six innings and struck out five. Four relievers combined to pitch the final three scoreless innings. Pedro Severino went 2 for 3 with two RBI. Severino, a catcher, is 19 and hitting .290 in 18 games.