MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Here’s an eye-popping stat for you: Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard have put together a 0.93 ERA through the season’s first five games.
The rest of the Nationals’ bullpen? A 15.63 mark.
Again, the sample size is small, but those are numbers that clearly show a divide in the effectiveness of the Nationals’ relievers.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman after his team’s third straight loss, fourth of the season, on a night when his bullpen allowed three runs that proved to be the difference in a 7-4 game.
Wednesday night it was Chad Gaudin and Todd Coffey who were the culprits, Gaudin giving up two runs in the sixth and Coffey allowing a one-out double before walking the next two batters and surrendering the Marlins’ seventh run on a sacrifice fly. Coffey was then ejected as Riggleman came to get him and had words with umpire Tim Tschida before leaving the field.
“The umpire called it a ball, it’s a ball,” Coffey said after the game. “The situation dictates that I’ve got to be more composed and stay with myself and help the team out and I didn’t. I let it affect me… Regardless, it doesn’t matter what he calls. The situation is I gave up a run right there and we had a chance in the ninth inning (that could have been) two runs down instead of three runs down. It’s my fault.”
Riggleman went to Clippard, Storen and Burnett in Tuesday night’s extra-innings loss and both Clippard and Storen threw 66 pitches combined — enough to warrant them being unavailable on Wednesday night. That left the Nationals with a choice of Gaudin, Coffey, Brian Broderick and Doug Slaten — who did get a strikeout of the one batter he faced in relief of Coffey in the eighth.
“We’re going to have to be able to rely on some other guys,” Riggleman said, reiterating his confidence in both Coffey and Gaudin.
There are, however, other options and the Nationals may be forced to consider some of them soon. Collin Balester, one of the team’s best performers in spring training, was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse more for the fact that he had an option remaining and Gaudin, a non-roster invitee, and Broderick, a Rule 5 pick, would be lost if they weren’t put on the roster. The earliest the team could recall Balester would be April 10.
And don’t forget about Henry Rodriguez, he of the 100-plus mph fastball, who showed off his impressive heat but severe lack of control in limited spring appearances before going on the disabled list with a neck issue just before the close of camp.
Cole Kimball is also an option the Nationals will likely choose at some point this season but they really would like Kimball, who hasn’t pitched above Double-A, to get a bit more minor league seasoning before they call him up.
Until then, the Nationals need to ride the arms they have but if they don’t get more effectiveness out of that second half, they’ll most likely be forced to make some changes.“It’s got to work itself out,” Riggleman said. “They’ve all got good arms.. It’s going to be a complete effort out of those guys.”
“There’s seven of us in the bullpen, last I checked,” Coffey said. “There’s not three and it’s going to take every one of us to help us win.”