- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2011

Washington Nationals pitcher Tom Gorzelanny wants to be a starter, not a reliever. He makes no secret of that.

Stuck in a relief role behind a rotation of young arms, workhorse Livan Hernandez and the career revitalization project of Chien-Ming Wang, the 29-year-old lefty called his situation “not ideal.”

“It’s not what I envisioned I would be doing and what I have been doing through my career,” he said. “It’s still a job, and I’m still here with the team and whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it.”

And yet, Gorzelanny has been reliable out of a bullpen that dominated against the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend. In his past four appearances, he has allowed one earned run on five hits.

“I’ve always been impressed with Gorzelanny’s stuff, and he’s been a real professional about his situation right now and he’s been just eager to get into games,” setup man Tyler Clippard said. “I think it shows in the last few performances that he’s gone out there and just been hungry and gotten the job done.”

This is Gorzelanny’s job right now, but it doesn’t mean he’s all too thrilled about it.

Manager Davey Johnson insisted it wasn’t a “demotion,” but there are few other ways to look at it from Gorzelanny’s perspective.

“I consider myself a starter and when they said ‘You’re not starting anymore,’ it’s obviously not a promotion,” said Gorzelanny, who’s 2-6 with a 4.46 ERA as a starter this season.

With the Nats featuring such a deep group of young pitchers, Gorzelanny isn’t the only one whose role has changed. Collin Balester moved to the bullpen before the 2010 season and has become more accustomed to the life out in the bullpen during games.

“I think it’s just different. I would say it’s equally as difficult. Starting’s tough - you’ve got to go through the lineup three or four times, and then being a reliever you’ve got to be able to deal with not pitching every night but being ready to go every night,” Balester said.

“It’s just different, and you just kind of change your mindset on things and you work through it.”

Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick can sympathize with Gorzelanny, given his role as a spot starter and long-relief man.

“We all know I can start - it’s just a matter of when they feel I’m ready to,” Kendrick said Sunday. On Friday night, he told Philadelphia reporters that “hopefully one of these days I won’t have to go back and forth.”

Gorzelanny seems set in the bullpen as the Nats’ top long-relief option. But his complaint is more nuanced than just starting vs. relieving. He wants to be a go-to guy.

“I don’t want to just be a mop-up guy. If it’s bullpen, I’d like to establish a role,” Gorzelanny said. “If it came to the point where I was in the bullpen and they said, ‘We want you to be a lefty specialist,’ that would be fine with me. I’d be all right with that.”

Gorzelanny is holding lefty hitters to a .178 average. With left-handed relievers a valuable commodity, he has given thought to being a middle reliever or even a setup guy.

“What I do now could help me in the future,” Gorzelanny said. “And as long as I go out there and accept my role and pitch well and continue to work and to get better and try to be successful, it could help me in the long run.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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