After Garrett Mock and Joel Hanrahan combined to blow a four-run lead in the eighth inning of a 13-11 loss to the Phillies last night, manager Manny Acta said today the Nationals will use a closer-by-committee approach, putting Hanrahan in lower-pressure situations until he gets his confidence back.
From Acta to acting general manager Mike Rizzo to Hanrahan himself, confidence seemed to be the buzzword. They all felt he’d lost some, especially on Monday night when he walked Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth — two hitters who are a combined 0-for-14 lifetime against him — in part because he was afraid of giving up a home run.
For now, Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells (who both signed minor-league deals in spring training) will share the closer’s role. Joe Beimel, who is eligible to come off the disabled list next week, will also be in the mix to close games.
“Depending on how things go this week, he might end up being the guy,” Acta said.
Hanrahan took the decision well, saying it doesn’t make sense to keep running the same pitcher to the mound when he’s consistently struggling. The right-hander has blown three of his five save chances this year.
Rizzo wasn’t troubled by the closer saying he was afraid of giving up a home run, though, because he said that fear is more common among closers than many think.
“I think he probably needs to do a little media counseling. I think a lot of pitchers have felt it, and not many of them say it,” Rizzo said. “He was very truthful and forthcoming to the media. Confidence is everything. I don’t know one closer that I ever played with or was around that didn’t second-guess themselves at times. Not many of them mention it in the media.”
Now the closer’s role comes down to the three pitchers Rizzo signed in March — first Wells and Tavarez, then Beimel when he returns from a strained left hip flexor. When asked what he would have thought if Wells and Tavarez, who came in with plenty of uncertainty, would be closing games little over a month later, Rizzo smiled, tapped the side of his head and said, “Not everybody knew what to expect, but some people did.”
Given how well the two minor-league signees have performed in spot roles, though (Wells has a 2.08 ERA in four appearances, Tavarez a 3.12 ERA in 11 appearances), Rizzo can take a little pride in the cheap insurance policy.
“Going into spring training, I felt the bullpen was the most vulnerable spot on the club. Not only the bullpen proper, but to protect our young starters,” he said. “There’s nothing that deflates a young starting pitching staff worse than having the bullpen implode on them.”