- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

PHOENIX — For all its collective struggles this season, the Washington Nationals’ bullpen has enjoyed one constant: Chad Cordero.

The 24-year-old closer has quietly put together another impressive season with 26 saves and a 3.09 ERA. He has been almost unbeatable since the All-Star break, successfully converting 13 of his last 14 save opportunities while posting a 1.80 ERA.

And lately, his fastball seems to have extra oomph. That much was obvious Tuesday night, when Cordero struck out two of the four batters he faced in saving the Nationals’ 5-4 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said of his effective fastball. “For some reason, it’s just there right now. I don’t really know why.”

Cordero still rarely tops 90 or 91 mph, but that doesn’t mean he can’t blow hitters away.

“That’s been his motto ever since he got here,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He gets his fastball by hitters. That’s the way I describe it. He’s done that from day one in the big leagues. …

“Maybe it’s deception. Maybe it’s the delivery. I don’t know what it is. But he’s done it and been able to do it.”

Bergmann’s future?

After another shaky start Tuesday night, Jason Bergmann may not find himself in the Nationals’ rotation much longer.

Bergmann, who gave up three runs and six hits in three-plus innings against the Diamondbacks, has failed to make it out of the fourth in each of his last two outings. The right-hander met with Robinson and pitching coach Randy St. Claire yesterday, and the manager acknowledged Bergmann’s spot could be in jeopardy.

“He hasn’t shown the ability to get hitters out,” said Robinson, who added that left-hander Mike O’Connor and right-hander Beltran Perez are two possible options to move out of the bullpen and into the rotation.

Bergmann, whose ERA is up to 6.79, said he’s determined to turn things around before the season’s over.

“I’m not giving up,” he said. “I’m going out there every time and giving my best effort. If I have bad stuff, it makes me try harder. My effort level’s there all the time. I’ll come back and work hard. … Whatever decision’s made, I’m right there with it.”

Schneider’s web gem

It happened too late for most viewers in Washington to see, but catcher Brian Schneider made one of the smartest plays of the year in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s win.

With runners on first and third and one out, the Diamondbacks’ Miguel Batista popped a sacrifice bunt attempt straight up in the air. Rather than make the easy catch, Schneider purposely let the ball fall in fair territory, then picked it up and threw to second to start an inning-ending 2-6-4 double play.

“It was a very heady play,” Robinson said.

The key, according to Schneider, was the fact that Batista didn’t break out of the batters’ box once he popped the bunt up.

Then, he made the split-second decision to let the ball drop and attempt to turn the double play.

“When you see him not running, the first thing you look for is: ‘Can we drop it here?’” Schneider said. “That’s the key. If he’s not running, you can take your chances.”

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