- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009

Maybe someday, the Washington Nationals will find the right combination of bargain relievers and young arms to fill out their bullpen, assembling a group that wont stand in the way of the teams potent offense staking the Nationals to a winning record.

They tried again on Friday, shuttling recent acquisition Logan Kensing to Class AAA Syracuse in favor of Jesus Colome, a familiar face with a familiar set of control issues the Nationals were hoping had gone away. But Colome and the rest of the Nationals bullpen were just an ensemble cast in a story that keeps repeating itself.

The Nationals 12-inning, 10-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies came almost solely because of their bullpen and in spite of a resourceful offensive rally and a decent night from left-hander John Lannan.

It’s a scenario that’s played out plenty of times already in the seasons first 1 months, and until it stops, acting general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Manny Acta will have no choice but to keep turning the bullpen like a Rubiks cube, hoping all the colors line up one of these days.

They didn’t on Friday night. Despite taking a 4-1 lead into the sixth inning and rallying for two runs in the ninth, the Nationals fell in extra innings, after the bullpen ultimately failed its self-made stress test.

“We basically walked ourselves to death,” Acta said. “We had eight walks in five and a third (innings) out of our bullpen. When you play with fire, you’re going to burn yourself.” Lannan has yet to put together anything in the stratosphere of his best starts from 2008. But he at least looked worthy of evening his record at 3-3 on Friday night. Despite a flat complement of breaking pitches that led to three Phillies hits in the third inning, Lannan had only allowed one run through the first five innings.

But he slipped in the sixth, hitting two batters (Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez) that both wound up scoring. Ibanez wouldn’t have scored, though, if Garrett Mock had been able to put Pedro Feliz away with two outs, instead of allowing a single up the middle.

That cut the Nationals lead to 4-3, and Joe Beimel, who gave up a three-run homer in Washington’s ninth-inning loss to San Francisco on Tuesday, got hammered again in the eighth.

After Colome gave up a walk and a hit to start the inning Beimel entered with none out.

He struck out Chase Utley, but then threw Ryan Howard an 87-mph fastball with little movement, an offering roughly akin to a limping wildebeest for a famished lion. Howard flattened the pitch, sending it over the center field wall for his seventh homer of the year and third game-changing blast off the Nationals bullpen in just over a month.

“I was trying to go down and away, and I missed up and in,” Beimel said. “I didn’t think he hit it that good, but hes a big, strong guy, and it ended up going out.”

The shot put Philadelphia up 6-4, and had the additionally damaging effect of making Acta cycle through all of his seven relievers the day before a doubleheader. Its the same kind of gambit the Nationals appeared to be laying on the Phillies after grinding 78 pitches out of starter Joe Blanton in the first three innings.

Washington scored four runs in the third despite just two hits, generating the rest with a patient offense that got four walks off Blanton in the inning.

After the third, the Nationals got just one hit before the ninth inning, when their offense woke up just in time.

Ryan Zimmerman collected his third hit of the game with one out in the ninth. Adam Dunns check swing sent a ball bouncing toward third base for what looked like a game-ending double play when Pedro Feliz stepped on third, but his throw to first didn’t get Dunn in time.

The split-second turned out to be the Nationals ticket into extra innings. Willie Harris, who entered the game in the seventh inning when Elijah Dukes strained his left hamstring, lashed a double down the right field line. Zimmerman scored easily, and Dunn came barreling around third, with third-base coach Pat Listach waving him home the entire time, intent on forcing the Phillies to throw him out.

Utley couldn’t do it. His relay throw sailed wide of home plate, and Dunn scored to tie the game at six.

Given that extra bit of life, Joel Hanrahan turned in some of his finest work of the year, striking out Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth the same two hitters he walked before giving up the deciding grand slam to Raul Ibanez in Philadelphia last month to end the 10th. Then Kip Wells stranded two runners in the 11th, striking out Jimmy Rollins.

But a second escape act proved to be too much for Wells.

He walked the bases loaded in the 12th. With no bullpen options left, Acta had no choice but to sit idly by and hope Wells could get Raul Ibanez. He couldn’t.

Ibanezs single scored two runs. Another scored when Wil Nieves committed a throwing error on a double steal. Then came another single from Feliz, putting the Phillies up 10-6 and sending Wells to the dugout under a shower of boos once he finished the inning.

Wells said he was “pretty spent from an adrenaline standpoint” before he got the third out in the 11th. “I spent a lot of my energy trying to make pitches, and I was spinning my wheels, for lack of a better work,” he said.

Said Acta: “He was starting (at Syracuse), stretched out to 78-80 pitches down there already. He got (Shane) Victorino on two pitches. After that, he loaded the bases. No excuses. No explanations. We just basically walked ourselves into death.”

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, instead of going to his last reliever (Jack Taschner) called on J.A. Happ for the games final two innings. Happ was scheduled to start the second game on Saturday night.

Summoned a day early, he ultimately did what Wells couldn’t: Get through two innings without disaster.

He sedated the Nationals in the 12th, earning a win a day before he was supposed to.

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