- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

After his third loss of the season - and another night that left the Washington Nationals questioning his confidence - Joel Hanrahan lost the closer’s job for the second time this season.

Manager Manny Acta said Saturday that Hanrahan, who gave up two runs in the 10th inning of Friday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Mets, will go back to middle relief until he regains his confidence. Mike MacDougal, who signed a minor league contract May 3 and hasn’t given up an unearned run in four outings since being called up May 29, is the new closer.

MacDougal had 49 saves for the Kansas City Royals from 2003-05 and has impressed the Nationals with a fastball that touched 97 mph and displayed impressive movement in a Friday night strikeout of Gary Sheffield.

Hanrahan entered with the score tied at 1-1 in the ninth inning Friday and got out of the inning in eight pitches. His trouble came in the 10th, when Luis Castillo hit an 0-2 slider for a single, Carlos Beltran drew a five-pitch walk and David Wright drove in two with a double.

Acta said Hanrahan needed to display more confidence in his 95 mph fastball rather than rely on his slider. Hanrahan only threw three sliders to Castillo, Beltran and Wright and said he felt like he made “good pitches” when asked about it afterward.

The 27-year-old had little to say Saturday.

“I’ve been through it before,” Hanrahan said, referring to being removed from the role April 28 after giving up a grand slam in a 13-11 loss to Philadelphia. “It’s the same thing. There’s your line.”

Acta said Hanrahan understood the move and didn’t think the right-hander had reached a point where he couldn’t rebound from his struggles while staying on a major league roster.

“I think when he was pitching in the sixth, seventh inning, he handled himself very well. As long as you can find a spot for guys where they’re going to be successful, I think you’re OK,” Acta said. “At times, he has pitched well in the closer’s role. But it’s such an important part of the game for the team overall. … So we’re just going to take all that pressure away from him and let him pitch.”

MacDougal said new pitching coach Steve McCatty helped him re-establish his fastball when both were at Class AAA Syracuse.

“I don’t think I was any more excited than anything else when I found out the news, but it’s good,” MacDougal said. “It’s been a while since I’ve done it, and I look forward to doing it again.”

As for the possibility of Hanrahan getting the closer’s job back again?

“I wouldn’t even think about that right now,” Acta said. “He just needs to pitch.”

Pollock in for workout

The Nationals had Notre Dame center fielder A.J. Pollock in for a workout Saturday, with most of the team’s front office watching the 6-foot-1 junior take batting practice.

Baseball America rated Pollock the 23rd-best player in this year’s draft. The Nationals have brought several late first-round possibilities in for workouts this week, leading to speculation they’re planning to take a player they won’t have much trouble signing with the 10th pick, leaving more money for projected No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg.

Pollock was the MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer, hitting .377 and posting a .556 slugging percentage.

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