The Washington Times - July 21, 2012, 12:22PM

The way the Nationals’ bullpen was handled Friday night was curious. Nationals manager Davey Johnson was the first to admit it — though he used a few stronger words than that — and called his team’s 11-10 loss to the Braves “arguably the worst game I’ve ever managed.”

Saturday morning, Johnson punished himself. He hardly slept and he amped up his normal treadmill workout.

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“In penance for yesterday I went in and did my two miles and cut about two minutes off it,” Johnson said. “I punished myself and tried to wipe out some memory banks and create some new brain cells in my head. I hope it works.”

On Friday night, Johnson declined to elaborate on what mistakes he’d like to take back if he could. But on Saturday morning he expanded a little on what led to some of his curious decisions and how uncomfortable he feels with the roles in the bullpen at this moment.

The Nationals are going with eight relievers, at least through the weekend, so Johnson has a plethora of options but a jumbled mess of roles — and it’s led to him managing more with a day-to-day mentality than the kind of long-term outlook he prefers.

There was a time where it was clear: Drew Storen was the closer, Tyler Clippard the All-Star set-up man, Sean Burnett their seventh-inning lefty. Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Heny Rodriguez could all fill in the late innings when needed. Tom Gorzelanny was the primary long man. You get the idea.

But things have since changed. Try as they might, the Nationals couldn’t avoid moving Clippard into the closers’ role. That forced Burnett into the eighth-inning role and a host of other reactionary moves. And now that Storen has returned, it might just be time for the roles to change again.

“I haven’t been pleased with the way I’ve had to set it up the last month or so,” Johnson said Saturday. “And part of that leads to the problem we had (Friday). That’s because I’ve kind of gone by what I thought was the best scenario rather than what’s the best for the long haul.

“My task going forward is to try to, with all the pieces here now, put it back into some semblance of order and use it that way.”

Clippard’s performance in the last week or so likely also plays into this. Clippard has blown two saves this week and he’s allowed seven earned runs in his last three innings of work. Johnson said Friday night he was “a little concerned” about him. “He was a little wild tonight,” Johnson said. “He’s not wild. He hasn’t been wild at all in that role.”

Clippard admitted he “just hasn’t been real sharp lately,” but refused to use his workload or anything else as an excuse for his abnormal performances.

“It’s kind of something you go through in a season,” he said. “That’s kind of all I can say. It’s probably my worst stretch I’ve had in a long time. It’s something I’ve got to work through and figure out. It just hasn’t been real good lately.

“I feel good. Once I got through probably April-May, I got my arm strength back to where it was in the past. I’m used to having this type of workload in the past. It’s actually less. I haven’t really been pitching two innings or anything like that. It’s been one inning at a time. So that’s not really an issue. I feel good.”

Johnson indicated he might try to go a bit easier on Burnett and Clippard, given the fact that the two have each appeared in 43 games this season, and Storen being back should certainly help that.

But, Johnson stressed, the reduced workload and the added arms won’t be worth anything if he can’t get his relievers back in the roles he feels are best for them and using them appropriately.

“Storen should make it easier,” he said. “But I need to get him to where he was last year.”