- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | After Garrett Mock and Joel Hanrahan combined to blow a four-run lead in the eighth inning of a 13-11 loss to the Phillies on Monday night, manager Manny Acta said Monday the Washington Nationals will use a closer-by-committee approach, putting Hanrahan in lower-pressure situations until he gets his confidence back.

From Acta to acting general manager Mike Rizzo to Hanrahan himself, confidence seemed to be the buzzword. They all felt he had lost some, especially Monday night when he walked Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth - two hitters who are a combined 0-for-14 lifetime against him - in part because he was afraid of giving up a home run.

For now, Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells (who both signed minor league deals in spring training) will share the closer’s role. Joe Beimel, who is eligible to come off the disabled list next week, also will be in the mix to close games.

“Depending on how things go this week, he might end up being the guy,” Acta said.

Hanrahan took the decision well, saying it doesn’t make sense to keep running the same pitcher to the mound when he’s consistently struggling. The right-hander has blown three of his five save chances this year.

Rizzo wasn’t troubled by Hanrahan saying he was afraid of giving up a home run, though, because he said that fear is more common among closers than many think.

“I think he probably needs to do a little media counseling. I think a lot of pitchers have felt it, and not many of them say it,” Rizzo said. “He was very truthful and forthcoming to the media. Confidence is everything. I don’t know one closer that I ever played with or was around that didn’t second-guess themselves at times. Not many of them mention it in the media.”

Now the closer’s role comes down to the three pitchers Rizzo signed in March - first Wells and Tavarez, then Beimel when he returns from a strained left hip flexor.

And given Wells’ 2.08 ERA in four appearances and Tavarez’s 3.12 ERA in 11 appearances, Rizzo can take a little pride in the cheap insurance policy.

“Going into spring training, I felt the bullpen was the most vulnerable spot on the club. Not only the bullpen proper but to protect our young starters,” he said. “There’s nothing that deflates a young starting pitching staff worse than having the bullpen implode on them.”

It seemed evident to Wells and Tavarez that Hanrahan needed to step back from the closer’s role, but Wells said he’s hoping to see Hanrahan closing games again soon.

“I don’t even think in this situation, that now it’s going to be a group effort,” Wells said. “Hopefully [Hanrahan] takes the job back over. It just means that there’s no loyalty to riding it out. If he gets in trouble, now it’s, ‘We’re all collectively going to try to get three outs in the ninth.’ ”

Harris back, Maxwell down

The Nationals activated Willie Harris from the 15-day DL on Tuesday, bringing the utility infielder back from a strained left oblique muscle that has kept him out since April 13. Harris said he felt “fine” with his rehab stint at Class AAA Syracuse.

“I’ll get a couple spot starts,” Harris said. “I know my role. They won’t have a problem out of me.”

That move sent outfielder Justin Maxwell back to Syracuse, where he likely will start in center and get the everyday experience Rizzo said the 25-year-old still needs.

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