- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September call-ups give young players a chance to gain big league experience and perhaps make an impression that will land them a permanent roster spot in the spring.

Players, though, aren’t the only ones who benefit from the late-season roster expansion. Consider the impact it has on managers, who suddenly have an overflowing dugout full of backups and a crowded bullpen full of fresh arms at their disposal.

Perhaps no manager in the majors has taken advantage of all those players better than Manny Acta. The Washington Nationals rookie skipper isn’t afraid to use every asset available to him in an attempt to win a game. As Acta — who has 11 relievers in his bullpen — puts it: “They’re there. Why not pitch them?”

Why not, indeed. Pushing all the right buttons for the second straight night, Acta used nine different pitchers to get through a nine-inning game, coaxing a 9-8 win from his troops over the fast-fading New York Mets last night.

Despite another shaky performance from their starting pitcher — Joel Hanrahan lasted only three innings — the Nationals stormed back to topple the Mets through a barrage of hits and a steady stream of quality relievers.

Some of their names may not be familiar outside of hard-core fan circles, but Mike Bacsik, Winston Abreu, Jesus Colome, Saul Rivera, Arnie Munoz, Chris Schroder, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero all contributed to the victory before 19,966 at RFK Stadium.

Six of those relievers (all but Abreu and Cordero) combined to toss four shutout innings. Cordero was a little less successful, giving up three straight two-out singles in the ninth to bring the Mets within a run and put the tying run on third base. But the closer recovered to strike out Ruben Gotay on a 3-2 fastball to preserve the win and secure his 35th save.

“My mind was racing,” Cordero said of the final at-bat. “My heart was racing.”

The steady stream of Washington relievers trotting in from the bullpen has become a nightly occurrence. Acta has used 52 pitchers in the last eight games, 6.5 a game.

“That’s the key,” he said. “I have 11 guys in the bullpen and a couple of them that are stretched out as starters. I think we have to do anything possible to give us a chance to win.”

It has taken everything the Nationals have to beat the Mets the last two nights. After scoring 12 unanswered runs in Monday’s 12-4 victory, they stormed back from an early 4-0 deficit again last night. Their 21 total runs in back-to-back home games are the most since the franchise relocated to RFK in 2005.

“It’s pretty incredible, considering we have a tough time scoring five runs a game,” Acta said.

The game began as a near carbon copy of the series opener, in which starter Tim Redding left the Nationals in an early hole and then watched as his teammates came back to take the lead and ultimately win. This time, Hanrahan played the role of ineffective right-hander, getting tagged for four runs in the first and then another in the third.

By the time he left, Hanrahan had allowed nine players to reach base in three innings, a continuation of his recent struggles. In his last three starts, the rookie has allowed 29 players to reach base in 92/3 innings (an average of three baserunners an inning).

“Of course I’d like to … finish this season on a good note and try to take some pressure off the bullpen,” said Hanrahan, whose ERA rose to 6.45. “I can’t keep going out there and running those guys out there every fourth inning. They’ve been doing a great job, but they don’t deserve that.”

The starter’s struggles didn’t matter last night, because the Nationals got all the runs back (and more) with a prolonged offensive onslaught. Austin Kearns hit a solo homer in the second. Ronnie Belliard added a three-run shot in the fifth. And D’Angelo Jimenez’s solo shot in the sixth — Washington’s fifth pinch-hit home run in the last three weeks — proved the difference in the game and dealt the reeling Mets their fifth straight loss.

“Manny said it: Hey, show me what you got in the last month,” Belliard said. “You can show a lot. We’re playing good right now.”

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