Nationals’ relievers running hot, cold in the early going

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. | A cursory glance at a few numbers about the Nationals’ bullpen displays a divide in its effectiveness.

On the one hand, left-hander Sean Burnett and right-handers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen worked to a 0.93 ERA through the season’s first five games - and Clippard and Storen added two scoreless innings each in Thursday’s extra-inning game against the Marlins. But Todd Coffey, Chad Gaudin, Brian Broderick and Doug Slaten combined for a 15.63 mark.

While their numbers may show a divide, their attitudes don’t speak to one.

“Sometimes [bullpen ERA] can be blown out of proportion either way,” Storen said. “We all see it as one group, so it doesn’t matter. … I don’t look at it like we’re carrying the load or whatever. It’s kind of one big group, and that’s one thing we’re really trying to do. It’s individual, sure, but we’re all one collective bullpen. That’s our whole idea. That’s what we are, and we pick each other up.”

The facts remain, though, that while Burnett, Storen and Clippard have been reliable and effective for the Nationals, Coffey and Gaudin have struggled to begin the season, along with Broderick in his major league debut. Slaten, a lefty specialist, has only faced six batters and allowed two hits.

The Nationals have struggled early, but they have no immediate choice other than to keep going to those guys and hope that they can shake off whatever has plagued them through the first few games.

The Nationals are trying to avoid using Broderick in high-pressure situations until he gets more major league seasoning, and there is no concern right now that Coffey and Gaudin, with 10-plus years of major league experience between them, won’t be able to produce eventually.

“They’ve got good arms,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “That’s the thing about it. It’s not like they’re not a challenge for hitters. They’ve got good arms; they’ve got good stuff.

“We’re in one of those ruts for those guys. If it can go wrong, it’s gone wrong, but you watch how the ball’s coming out of their hand.”

Wednesday night in the Nationals’ 7-4 loss to the Florida Marlins, Gaudin surrendered what would stand up to be the winning runs and Coffey helped to tack on an insurance run for the Marlins before getting ejected when Riggleman pulled him from the game.

In 2 2/3 innings of work this season, Gaudin has allowed eight hits, including one double and a home run, to go along with two walks and four strikeouts. Coffey has allowed three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings off two hits and three walks.

“It’s early in the season,” Gaudin said. “We’re not really paying attention to numbers down there. We’re pulling for each other and looking at the end of the night when there’s a ‘W’ in our column. … I definitely need to get better in certain aspects, but it’s early, and we’re going to pull for each other.”

Barring an injury, the Nationals can’t recall until April 10 any player who was optioned to the minor leagues at the end of spring training - right-hander Collin Balester, for example - and the other right-hander they expected to have on the staff, Henry Rodriguez (neck), began a rehab assignment Wednesday night in Double-A Harrisburg.

For the time being, they’ve got to ride the arms they have.

“We have a good attitude,” Broderick said. “Everybody backs up each other. Everybody’s out there to succeed, and we’re behind each other 100 percent. … I want to gain their trust and for them to know they can put me out there in certain situations and not be stuck in one situation.

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