- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 2, 2009

The struggles of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen are prolonged and well-documented — seven blown saves this season, five losses in the past three weeks when the team was tied or ahead going into the eighth inning, a 5.40 ERA and 47 walks in 73 1/3 innings.

It’s a reign of futility that could take a mental toll on any team. In the Nationals’ bullpen, they’re doing their best not to let the struggles beget more struggles.

“We just continue to preach to the guys that we have to stick together, pick each other up and things are going to turn for the best for us,” manager Manny Acta said. “We’re showing to them with the moves that have been done that we’re working on this and seeing if we can find a solution.”

Acta said he wasn’t aware of the blown leads entering into the relievers’ psyches and causing further failures. For that, he praised Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells, saying they have taken it upon themselves to be a calming influence in the bullpen.

“I really like how Julian and Wells have been supportive of Hanrahan,” Acta said. “It’s a long season. We have struggled out of the ‘pen the first month, but these guys are going to help us out.”

Tavarez said the relievers have talked as a group about what happened, but he has tried to stress the importance of keeping a short memory.

“We talk about it in the bullpen,” Tavarez said. “We feel like we let the team down. The bullpen was the one that let the game get away. You have to show your feelings for that. You have to talk about it, and try to put it behind you. They’ve been doing good, those kids out there. They’ve handled it nicely.”

However poorly the Nationals’ bullpen has fared, it’s likely to get some help soon when left-hander Joe Beimel comes off the 15-day disabled list, where he has been since April 21 after straining his left hip flexor. Beimel was scheduled to throw one inning each on Friday and Sunday for Class A Potomac and will rejoin the team Wednesday for the first game of its West Coast road trip in Los Angeles.

Harris in center

Willie Harris started in center field for the first time this year Friday night, with Elijah Dukes moving to right field. Austin Kearns and Josh Willingham got the night off.

Acta had said Harris would get more time in the outfield once he came off the 15-day disabled list April 28 because Anderson Hernandez has played well enough to start every day at second base. Harris might be the team’s best defensive option in center field, and the move allows Acta to take Dukes out of center for a game while keeping Harris on a somewhat regular schedule.

“We’re giving him some at-bats so he stays sharp,” Acta said. “We’ve been alternating Willingham and Kearns, so why not give him some at-bats, too? Right now, Hernandez is playing very well at second base, so he might as well go out there and stay sharp.”

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