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Nationals bullpen rounding into form

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Thursday afternoon, the Washington Nationals used three relievers to close out a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers. It was just the second time in the last nine games that more than two relievers were summoned from the bullpen in the same game.

It’s led to an interesting dynamic. One that has a few relievers jokingly introducing themselves to manager Davey Johnson each time he walks through the clubhouse — you know, just as a reminder to him that they’re still on the team. 

“That may or may not have happened,” right-hander Drew Storen said with a sly smile, though Ryan Mattheus was the one Johnson had pointed to by name. 

As the Nationals’ bullpen, like the rest of their team, turned in inconsistent work in April, it was a process for Johnson to find roles each of his relievers would be comfortable in.

It seemed like they were getting too much work to be able to do that early, and now, with the Nationals’ starters pitching better than they have all season, there’s been hardly any to go around.

“It’s feast or famine,” Storen said. “That’s the name of the game in the bullpen. That’s when it comes down to managing it outside of pitching in a game.”

It’s led them to figure out ways to adjust.

For Storen, that means using his time throwing in the bullpen a bit differently than he might have in the past. Storen warmed up during Wednesday night’s game as Tyler Clippard used 34 pitches to get through the eighth, but he didn’t end up appearing in the game. He pitched a scoreless eighth on Thursday.

“I warmed up (Wednesday), and normally in a situation like that I probably wouldn’t throw very much,” Storen said. “Kind of nice and easy and if you need to flip the switch you would. But I had to get a little bit more now. Now, if I’m feeling the situation out, I’m going to err on the side of throwing a little bit more than normal.

“Regardless of how hard you’re going to try to throw, effort level, in the bullpen you’re never going to really exceed 90 percent no matter. That last 10 percent comes from adrenaline… (So you) just make the adjustment so you can’t go in there too fresh.”

Mattheus, Storen and Soriano combined for three scoreless innings on Thursday and the Nationals’ bullpen, despite the inconsistent work of late, has begun to round into form and perform much more like the elite unit they were expected to be this season.

It was the fourth consecutive scoreless outing for Storen.

As always, though, the relievers know they have to remain flexible. One or two rocky starts and it might go from famine back to feast when it comes to workload.

“I’m happy with where I’m at,” he said. “I’m feeling consistent which is kind of the most important thing when the workload is kind of up in the air. With our starters throwing so well and all the good arms int he bullpen, it’s a lot of good things. I wouldn’t be surprised, talk to me in a week, and I’ll be going ‘I could use a couple days.’”

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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