The Washington Times - April 8, 2011, 03:24PM

NEW YORK — In the Nationals’ first two save situations of the season, left-hander Sean Burnett has successfully been given the ball by manager Jim Riggleman.

But to use those two outings as evidence that that’s the way Riggleman is leaning in order to designate a closer for this team would be jumping to conclusions. In the early going, the Nationals are still planning to play the matchups.

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Thursday night, the Nationals used Tyler Clippard to pitch the sixth and seventh innings, coming on with runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth, and Storen in the eighth and ninth innings. Todd Coffey pitched the 10th and, after the Nationals plated two runs in the top of the 11th on Adam LaRoche’s home run, Burnett was summoned for the save opportunity in the 11th.

But Riggleman said today that Burnett getting the save chance — if ever and whenever that opportunity presented itself — wasn’t a gaurantee. If the Nationals had scored in the top of the ninth inning, Riggleman was fully prepared to run Storen, who was incredibly effective throwing 15 of his 19 pitches for strikes, back out for the save opportunity.

Ultimately, Riggleman would prefer to have designated relievers for each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings but until they have guys who prove consistently they can thrive in those situations, the Nationals will continue to play the matchups.

“We want to be where if we need somebody in the seventh, we know who it is,” Riggleman said. “If we need somebody in the eighth, we know who it is and if we need somebody in the ninth, we know who it is.”

“But I’ve got to see that we’re going to get some consistent performances from those guys,” he added. “Because when you take it away, say you take the ball from Burnett in the eighth and nail it down for someone else in the ninth but they just don’t have it that day, you question yourself all night — ‘Why did I take Burnett out?’ I wat to see a little bit of what I saw (Thursday) night. If we can continue that type of performance, we’ve got something.”

— Ivan Rodriguez was back in the starting lineup for the Nationals on Friday afternoon, continuing to follow the every-other-day routine he’s in with Wilson Ramos but with Rodriguez now 0-for-10 on the season — with eight ground balls, one fly ball and one strikeout — there’s a good chance the Nationals will begin phasing Ramos in more often very soon, especially against left-handed pitchers.

The Nationals have yet to face a left-handed pitcher this season and won’t until Sunday when they see Chris Capuano, but once they begin to see more left-handed starters, Ramos will most certainly be getting the opportunity to start.

In his brief major league career, Ramos hasn’t faced very many left-handed pitchers but he has done well against the one’s he’s seen. In 17 at-bats, Ramos is hitting .529 with four doubles and an RBI and he has a .556 on-base percentage. Against right-handers, he’s had 76 major league at-bats with a .237 average.

“I don’t think (Ramos) is really at the point where being a No. 2 catcher is really going to benefit us or him,” Riggleman said. “So he’s going to move in there and just play more and more as we go.”

“Pudge is catching and throwing as good as he has in years,” Riggleman added. “He’s blocking balls, he’s just a great athlete behind the plate. Offensively, Pudge is trying to do some things… it’s just not an easy adjustment for Pudge to get his stroke going, for Pudge to play every-other-day or have two days off and play. That’s a tough adjustment.

What we want from Pudge is for him to just continue to catch and throw well and block balls and work with our pitching staff and we’ll take the hits as they come but it’s certainly not an easy adjustment for somebody who’s been getting 450-600 at-bats a year to an every-other-day situation.”