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Bullpen rested and ready to go, other pregame notes

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The Nationals’ bullpen had an easy night in Tuesday’s 9-3 win, as John Lannan pitched into the seventh inning against Atlanta and Henry Rodriguez finished the game with 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

Davey Johnson recognized the importance of giving Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett a day off in a blowout game so they would be rested for a potential high-pressure situation. Burnett had a day off on Friday, too, as Todd Coffey and Ryan Mattheus pitched the seventh and eighth inning, respectively, in the Nationals’ 5-3 win before Storen earned his 27th save of the year.

For Johnson, the ability to use relievers in their designated roles is a luxury he has not had this year.

“I’ve really had to use the bullpen, since I’ve been here, not enough according to their strengths, how I want to use a bullpen,” he said. “I’ve obviously had to use some guys early when I wanted to use them late. I’ve had to use them for two innings when I only wanted to use them for one. Some I’ve had to stretch to three. That’s not where I want to be.”

He went on to emphasize that on a contending team, each pitcher in the bullpen should know what to expect and what kind of situation he’s likely to be thrown into.

“When you want to get to 20, 30, 40 games over .500, which is where I want to be, you have to keep guys in a role,” Johnson said. “Not only is it easier for them to perform at a higher level, mainly they’re more prepared.”

— Michael Morse has become a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup. He leads the team with a .316 average on the year, but recently he’s been even better, batting .368 in a stretch of 22 games dating back to July 6. He has settled into a new role as cleanup hitter in Washington, with Ryan Zimmerman batting before him and Jayson Werth following him.

Zimmerman has hit in 11 straight games, batting .417 during that strength, and Jayson Werth has also been swinging the bat well of late, with a .341 average in the last 12 games. The Nationals’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters combined to go 6-for-15 in Saturday’s win, with two runs scored.

With the increased production, in the middle of the lineup, the Nationals’ offense is poised to find more consistency than they’ve had so far this season.

“Three, four and five lately have been pretty consistent,” Johnson said. “In the middle of a lineup, that’s what you need. Also, one and two are swinging the bat pretty good to give them some men on base. We’re inching closer to the whole lineup being productive.”

— Paulina Berkovich

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