The 14 homers the Nationals have hit in the first seven games of the season help mask some troublesome signs early from the bullpen.
In Tuesday’s 8-7 win over the White Sox, the bullpen allowed two huge home runs that could have lost the game. Up 6-2 in the seventh, Tyler Clippard surrendered a three-run shot to Paul Konerko to make it 6-5. In the ninth, Rafael Soriano gave up a two-run homer to Alex Rios, and an 8-5 lead was dwindled to 8-7.
Fortunately for the Nationals, they were able to hold on.
But Saturday at Cincinnati, the Nationals were staked to a 5-1 lead before the Reds rallied to tie it and force extra innings. The Nationals used a pair of homers to edge Cincinnati 7-6 in 11 innings.
With their recent struggles, Clippard’s ERA jumped to 6.75, Zach Duke is 16.88 (one appearance) after Friday’s rough outing, Henry Rodriguez is at 7.71 and Soriano is now at 9.00. Manager Davey Johnson is not sounding any alarm just yet.
“It is early in the year,” said Johnson. “Guys are not throwing like they are capable of. That is the first time Clippard has given up since he started throwing in the spring. (Drew) Storen is getting better location and getting sharper.”
Storen pitched well Tuesday is a crucial spot. Leading 7-5 in the eighth, Storen induced a fly out and then got back-to-back strikeouts.
Earlier, Craig Stammen allowed a run, but pitched around a rally attempt by scattering three hits.
But in the ninth, Soriano allowed a single Alejandro De Aza, and one batter later, Rios crushed his fourth homer of the season to cut the lead to 8-7.
“Soriano isn’t ... exactly where he needs to be,” Johnson said. “He is mostly throwing fastballs and locating fastballs. He hasn’t used much of his other stuff.”
And why is Soriano only featuring fastballs? Against the Marlins last week, that was all he needed to record a pair of saves.
“By and large, that is all he has needed to do to get by,” Johnson said. “He has got great breaking stuff, too. He locates the fastball real good, he cuts it.”
But Johnson is not panicking with his relievers in the first seven games, at least not to the media.
“It will all come around,” Johnson concluded. “I am not concerned. I know what I got out there in the ‘pen.”