Hanrahan out as closer again

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Joel Hanrahan’s second stint as the Nationals’ closer this season is over. Manager Manny Acta said on Saturday that Hanrahan, who gave up two runs in the 10th inning of Friday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Mets, will go back to pitching in middle relief until he regains his confidence.

Mike MacDougal, who signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals on May 3 and hasn’t given up a run in four outings since being called up from Class AAA Syracuse on May 29, is the team’s new closer.

Hanrahan and Acta had a difference of opinion about how the closer handled the 10th inning of the Friday loss; Acta felt Hanrahan needed to be more confident in his 95-mph fastball and rely less on his slider, while Hanrahan felt he “made some good pitches” against Luis Castillo, Carlos Beltran and David Wright.

He threw an 0-2 slider that Castillo hit for a single, trying to get the second baseman to chase a pitch. But he only threw one slider in a five-pitch walk to Beltran, and gave up a two-run double off a fastball to Wright.

“I think when he was pitching in the sixth, seventh inning, he handled himself very well. As long as you can find a spot for guys where they’re going to be successful, I think you’re OK,” Acta said. “At times, he has pitched well in the closer’s role. But it’s such an important part of the game for the team overall, to come in and have the lead or to come in in the ninth, just to keep the game tied, it’s tough. So we’re just going to take all that pressure away from him and let him pitch.”

Hanrahan had little to say about the move. “I’ve been through it before,” Hanrahan said, referring to his being removed from the role on April 28 after giving up a grand slam in a 13-11 loss to Philadelphia. “It’s the same thing. There’s your line.”

MacDougal saved 58 games from 2003-05 for Kansas City, but was cut by the White Sox early this season. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league deal on May 3, calling him up May 29 after they ran the risk of losing him to a clause in his contract that allowed him to elect free agency if he didn’t reach the majors in three weeks.

He hasn’t given up a run in four appearances, throwing an impressive 97-mph fastball with some nasty movement to strike out Gary Sheffield on Friday night.

“I don’t think I was any more excited than anything else when I found out the news,” MacDougal said. “But it’s good. It’s been a while since I’ve done it, and I look forward to doing it again.”

Acta wouldn’t consider the possibility of Hanrahan regaining the job at this point, saying the right-hander needs to pitch and get his confidence back.

No matter your take on Friday night, though, there have been questions in the organization about Hanrahan’s confidence in his stuff before, and now that he’s lost the job twice, it’s tough to see him taking it back unless he undergoes a major makeover as a pitcher.

One other note: The Nationals had Notre Dame center fielder A.J. Pollock in for a workout on Saturday afternoon, with most of the team’s front office watching the 6-foot-1 junior take batting practice. Pollock was the MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer, hitting .377 and posting a .556 slugging percentage.

He’s projected as a late first-round talent by Baseball America, with a solid glove and the potential to hit 15 homers in the big leagues. With the Nationals probably looking for someone they can sign quick with the No. 10 overall pick, Pollock could be another possibility there.

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