- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — One of the most difficult decisions Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson has this spring training is rounding out his bullpen, where a dozen pitchers are battling for perhaps one or two open spots.

“No matter how you use them, and we find roles for individuals, it’s going to be a tough decision with the numbers we have,” Robinson said. “The people we have here just don’t fit into the numbers we’re going to carry. … There is going to be some people that are not taken that deserve to be taken. We just don’t have the space.”

The Nationals relievers aren’t exactly household names. There’s no star like Mariano Rivera to anchor the bullpen.

“I don’t think we’re the most well-known group of guys in the league or in major league baseball, but we have some solid guys that throw strikes and attack the hitters,” left-handed reliever Joe Horgan said. “As a collective group, that’s our goal, to give our guys a chance behind us. None of us go out there and overpower too much. We’re all ‘let them hit the ball’ and pitch to our strengths.”

Robinson expects the bullpen to be better than it was last season.

“Like I said before, [John] Patterson, [Jon] Rauch, Horgan, and guys like [Gary] Majewski, they came to us last year during the course of the season,” Robinson said. “Now, we’re starting with those guys, and they all throw pretty good. It makes us a stronger group.”

The Montreal Expos’ 2004 bullpen started 1-14 but went 26-15 the rest of the way. In fact, the relievers won three more games than the club’s starting rotation (23) after June6.

“Used correctly as a group, we can get some very good production from them, I think,” Robinson said. “I feel a lot better with this group of arms that we have in camp this year than we had last year.”

Despite last year’s disastrous start, the Expos’ bullpen finished with a 4.00 ERA.

“We don’t have the big-name guys. We have guys that are learning that aren’t established,” said Majewski, a right-hander. “We have great young talent, but we still have to prove to the organization that we want to pitch.”

Antonio Osuna is the only reliever the Nationals acquired in the offseason. Aside from the veteran, the bullpen probably will look a lot like it did last year with Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, T.J. Tucker, Patterson, Joey Eischen, Horgan, Majewski, Rauch and perhaps even Claudio Vargas among the leading contenders.

Eischen and Horgan are the only lefties and probably will make the roster because of that. Patterson and Rauch mostly have served as starters but are getting a strong look as long relievers in what could end up being a seven-man bullpen.

“It’s always good to have competition. That’s what you look for. That’s what makes you better,” Patterson said. “You want to have people behind you pushing you, making you work harder, and that just makes the team better going into the season. … We’ve got a lot of good arms. It’s going to be a really strong pitching staff this year.”

Cordero and Ayala are the Nationals’ closers, but the long relievers haven’t been determined. Last season, Robinson used Tucker in both short and long relief.

“A lot of guys don’t look at our bullpen as strong, but I think it is really strong,” Tucker said. “In my honest opinion, I think the bullpen did a good job last year. Stuff happens. It’s baseball. You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. Heck, we don’t want to lose it for [the starter].”

Livan Hernandez would have won more than 11 games last year had the bullpen given him better support. Former closer Rocky Biddle, for example, allowed 15 home runs in 78 innings, or 1.7 every nine innings.

“Everybody is human, and everybody is going to give up home runs,” Tucker said. “We don’t want to give up home runs. We have one chance. We get our warmup pitches and go into the game and have to make good pitches.”

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