The Washington Times - August 2, 2011, 09:35AM

It’s no secret that Nationals manager Davey Johnson isn’t completely comfortable with the construction of his bullpen. Johnson makes mention of that often. He’d like another long man, he’d like to not have to rely on Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen every single time there’s a semi-close game, the list goes on. 

He’ll cross one of those off the wish list this afternoon when Collin Balester officially joins the team to serve as a right-handed long man out of the bullpen and he’s getting close to crossing another off the list with the continued emergence of Ryan Mattheus as one of the most reliable relievers in the Nationals bullpen.

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Monday night the Nationals were in a three-run game when the eighth inning rolled around and Clippard, used for 2 1/3 innings combined the previous two days, was unavailable. Todd Coffey had just sandwiched three outs in the seventh inning around a home run and Johnson needed to turn to someone to hold the lead in the Nationals third straight potential win.

Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ came blasting out of the speakers at Nationals Park and in stepped Mattheus for his 22nd career major league appearance. Like he did in so many of the 21 prior outings, Mattheus gave his manager exactly what he was looking for in a scoreless inning. His ERA dropped to 1.54 on the season, he’s held opponents to a .229 batting average and he continues to gain trust in high leverage situations.

“It’s a great boost of confidence when he gives me the ball in tight situations,” Mattheus said. “I definitely see (myself moving up the chain). I don’t know if that’s what I got called up here to do, I don’t know what they had envisioned for me but I enjoy pitching late in games. That’s what I did in the minor leagues. That’s what I feel fits my personality. If I pitch the seventh inning in front of (Clippard and Storen), that’s just a huge vote of confidence right there. Just to be given the ball in front of those guys is amazing.”

Mattheus, 27, began the season off the Nationals 40-man roster, rehabbing an injury and still less than two years removed from the Tommy John surgery he underwent days before getting traded to the Nationals in 2009 for Joe Beimel. He tore up the minor leagues and, when Cole Kimball went on the disabled list with what would eventually become season-ending rotator cuff surgery, was called up to the big leagues for the first time in his career on June 10. The Nationals began gradually dipping him into the big league action.

His performance since, which has featured a few hiccups but none too egregious and most coming when the Nationals had already lost the game, at least theoretically, has helped earn him more time in the crucial situations.

“I can’t always use Clip,” Johnson said. “I used him an inning and a third and then an inning the last two days. I couldn’t go there. No matter how much (I wanted to), it was going to be Mattheus and he did fine and that’s huge. He’s been really good. The only time he’s really had trouble is when I left him out there for that second inning. We’re getting there, moving in the right direction.”