- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

The long wait might have driven Joel Hanrahan bonkers, if only he had spent any time in his new role as closer of the Washington Nationals.

But since Hanrahan had never pitched in a save situation before in his life, a 12-day stint without an opportunity to pitch the ninth with a slim lead wasn’t anything to get worried about.

“It wasn’t that weird, because I’ve never done it before,” he said. “But I just took it like I was another reliever throwing in the eighth inning a few times.”

Hanrahan finally got his shot Sunday. Though he allowed a solo home run to Corey Patterson, he struck out the next two batters he faced and sealed a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds to earn his first career save.

“I kind of finished it the way I wanted to — with a strikeout,” he said. “That’s how I envisioned it. I didn’t picture the home run in there. But that’s all right.”

Though he was named closer July 22 after Jon Rauch was traded to Arizona, the Nationals had yet to need Hanrahan in his new role. The Nationals hadn’t recorded any saves at all since July 11, when Steven Shell went three innings in a 10-0 blowout of the Astros.

Though save situations hadn’t arisen in nearly two weeks, the Washington bullpen had been turning in its best performances of the season. Since the Rauch trade, the unit has a 1.65 ERA, erasing some of the bitter memories of a disappointing first half of the season.

Dukes out again

Left fielder Elijah Dukes was out of the Nationals’ lineup for the second straight game, each for different reasons. Dukes was benched by manager Manny Acta on Saturday night when he arrived to the ballpark late. He was held out Sunday because he injured his right calf while following through on a swing after entering Saturday night’s game.

The injury wasn’t considered serious, and Dukes is expected to return to the lineup in the next few days.

More injury news

Both third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Cristian Guzman were sidelined again Sunday with nagging injuries.

Zimmerman missed his third straight game with a bruised right hand after getting hit by a pitch Thursday. Guzman was out of the lineup for the eighth straight game with a bruised left thumb, though he has made a couple of appearances in the field and on the basepaths in the interim.

Neither player is expected to go on the disabled list, but Acta has been left without the lineup he has expected to have at his disposal.

“We think we’re finally going to be able to see all those guys together, and still we just can’t put them together out there,” the manager said. “It’ll happen, though. I’m sure it will happen.”

Meanwhile, infielder Aaron Boone (strained calf) flew to Florida on Sunday to continue his rehab at the Nationals’ spring training complex.

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