- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ATLANTA | The three power arms at the back end of Atlanta’s bullpen are garnering a lot of attention.

With the Braves’ starters already averaging more than six innings, the combination of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel to close things out is daunting.

“Braves sport best back-end bullpen in the bigs,” one national outlet’s headline read Monday morning.

But there is another group of relievers in the majors doing similar work — largely without that same attention. Their names are Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen.

“You don’t want to be in a position where they’re able to use those guys,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said of the Braves’ trio. “You want to be ahead of them so they’re not using those guys, and that’s the way clubs are against us. They don’t want to be facing Clippard and Storen so the way you don’t face Clippard and Storen is to be ahead of us.”

The Braves’ threesome entered Tuesday night’s series opener, won by Washington, with a combined ERA of 1.23.

The Nationals held on for a 7-6 victory — thanks to three-run homers by Jayson Werth and Laynce Nix — after taking a 7-1lead into the bottom of the eighth.

The Nationals’ big three checked in at 2.12 — and that includes a four-run inning that Burnett had against the New York Mets in late April.

The Nationals do not have the velocity of the Braves’ relievers, with O’Flaherty coming in around 92-93 mph, Venters 93-94 and Kimbrel, the team’s closer, pumping strikes at 95.

Storen is the hardest thrower of the three in Washington, generally around 95, while Clippard and Burnett are routinely clocked closer to 90-91.

“You know you’re always going to see some cheddar when those guys come out of the bullpen,” Storen said.

That might be a reason why they’ve gotten much more press than the Nationals’ group. Being thrust into more game-on-the-line situations helps, too. As does the fact that, Storen pointed out, “They just have great stuff.”

But it doesn’t make them any more effective than the Nationals’ trio has been.

“We joke with a lot of the guys on the team that we’re the offensive linemen of baseball,” Clippard said. “We’re very unrecognizable. But the guys in the clubhouse that we’re with every single day, I think they realize the contributions that we’re making and that’s really all we care about.”

Atlanta’s pitching staff entered Tuesday with a minuscule 2.85 ERA, a mark Riggleman called “unheard of in today’s world.”

The Nationals’ 3.69 mark entering Tuesday, though, is nothing to be ashamed of. The difference in the teams’ records — Atlanta opened the series four games back of NL East-leading Philadelphia but three games ahead of Washington — is clearly offense, something that doesn’t bode well against the Braves’ vaunted pitching.

“Their starters are really good, and their bullpen is very good,” Riggleman said. “When you come in here you’ve just got to try to play mistake-free baseball, and you’ve got to pitch. You have to hold them down because they hold your offense down.”