The Washington Post

Ross Ohlendorf is strong in relief

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If there’s any bright side to Dan Haren’s stuggles on Saturday, it’s the continued success of utility reliever Ross Ohlendorf, who followed up his six-inning, one-run showing in his first outing as a National by allowing only two hits and one run over 4 2/3 innings in relief of Haren.

“His off-speed stuff he’s kept down. The fastball…he adds and subtracts from it,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’ll go from 88 to 93, change location.”

In the past, Ohlendorf did sit between 88 and 93 mph, occasionally popping the glove at 94. But Saturday, his fastball was consistently between 94 and 96, velocity Ohlendorf said he hasn’t reached regularly over the past few seasons.

“My arm feels really good now, and it didn’t the past few years,” Ohlendorf said. “…I feel like I’ve figured out how to take care of it this year and it’s really helped.”

For Ohlendorf, whose unassuming personality is at odds with his Texas-size frame and potentially nasty stuff, a new uniform and old-school windup seem to be adding up to a more aggressive approach than the 30-year-old has shown in the past.

A deliberate pitcher who occassionally falls into nibbling at the strike zone, Ohlendorf averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings in just less than 50 innings with the Padres in 2012, and rarely established consistent command within the strike zone.

But Ohlendorf was authoritative from the get-go Saturday. His very first pitch sped over the inside corner and under the hands of Rockies’ leadoff man Dexter Fowler at 95 mph.  Ohlendorf continued to back Fowler off the plate with three more inside heaters before blowing him away with an elevated 95 mph fastball.

Two batters later, Ohlendorf struck out Carlos Gonzalez, one of the game’s preeminent left-handed bats, on three pitches. The last was a 96 mph two-seamer that Gonzalez was only barely able to get a piece of before it rocketed into Jhonathan Solano’s glove.

Part of aggressiveness, Ohlendorf said, was aimed at keeping the two men who were on base when he entered the game from scoring. Another part was confidence gained from having a fresh arm: as the long man in Johnson’s bullpen, Ohlendorf hadn’t thrown since June 12.

But circumstance aside, Ohlendorf said he’s taken a similar approach throughout the 2013 season, being aggressive early and focusing on command as he goes through the lineup a second and third time.

“Guys get in there and get that first pitch strike and then look up and they’re 1-2 in the at-bat and he’s in control,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “It’s good to see.”

Johnson wouldn’t speculate on what he might do with Haren in light of his struggles. If dropping the him from the rotation is an option, Ohlendorf’s 77-pitch outing Saturday leaves him lined up perfectly to slide into Haren’s slot. More immediately, his performance meant Johnson didn’t have to use too many arms to get through Saturday.

“He threw the ball great,” Johnson said. “He saved my bullpen.”

Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.



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James Wagner · June 22, 2013