- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

All season the Washington Nationals have asked their inexperienced bullpen to rescue the club’s suspect starters — a daunting task, to be sure, for a group of young relievers.

More and more, that bullpen has shown signs it can do an effective job.

Relievers Chris Schroder, Saul Rivera, Jon Rauch and Ryan Wagner combined to no-hit the Milwaukee Brewers over five innings and preserve a 6-1 victory for the Nationals yesterday before 26,128 at RFK Stadium.

Rivera (3-0) entered in the seventh inning and picked up the win. The last-place Nationals (65-84) won twice in the three-game series over the weekend and in five of six games against the Brewers (67-82) this season.

Over the past six games, the bullpen has allowed just four runs in 26 innings for a 1.38 ERA.

“They’re much more relaxed out there. They’re just going out now and doing what they feel they have to do to get a hitter out rather than thinking a lot out there,” manager Frank Robinson said. “All of them have done a remarkable job, really, in the time they’ve been up here. It just took them a while to get into the groove a little bit.”

Of the current relievers, only Rauch and closer Chad Cordero were on the roster Opening Day. The club called up Rivera from Class AAA New Orleans on May23. Wagner arrived from New Orleans on July31 and Schroder on Aug.8.

Wagner, 24, pitched the last two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds. He was acquired in a blockbuster eight-player deal with the Reds on July13 that also brought infielder Felipe Lopez and outfielder Austin Kearns to Washington.

“Being young is always kind of getting out there and getting the experience and soaking in being in a big league ballpark and pitching against big league hitters,” Wagner said. “As soon as that stuff finishes, it’s about going out there, staying with the game plan and executing your pitches. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Schroder was the most impressive of the relievers yesterday, striking out all six batters he faced. The six strikeouts marked a career high for the right-hander and a season high for Nationals relievers. Schroder entered in the fifth inning, replacing rookie starter Mike O’Connor.

“[The fastball] was real alive today. I was getting ahead, and I was elevating it a little bit, and they just seemed to chase it,” Schroder said.

The Brewers, meanwhile, received a strong performance from starter Doug Davis (10-11). The veteran left-hander crafted four perfect innings before Kearns hit a solo home run to left field with one out in the fifth to tie the score 1-1. Davis allowed two runs on three hits in seven innings, striking out seven.

Kearns finished 2-for-4 with one home run and two RBI. The right fielder added a run-scoring single to right in the seventh inning that gave the Nationals a 2-1 lead.

“It was just good to get something going because [Davis] was tough, hitting his spots, and he was kind of carving us up a little bit,” Kearns said of his career-high 20th home run of the season.

The Nationals broke open the game with four runs in the eighth, a burst highlighted by the club’s newfound speed on the bases.

Catcher Brandon Harper scored on a bases-loaded throwing error at the plate by Brewers shortstop Bill Hall that put the Nationals up 3-1. Hall’s throw to backup catcher Mike Rivera was high; Rivera jumped to catch Hall’s throw and was unable to touch the plate before Harper scored.

Speedy center fielder Nook Logan, who had bunted for a base hit, moved to third with Alfonso Soriano on second and Bernie Castro on first. Lopez singled to right field, clearing the bases.

“I knew [Castro] had a big lead, and that was the key,” Lopez said. “He went right when the ball was hit.”

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