Johnson admits Nats need left-handed specialist going forward

The Nationals were hoping that left-hander Zach Duke and right-handed relievers that could get left-handed hitters out would be the answer to the southpaw specialist role in the 2013 bullpen.

Things did not turn out the way the team had hoped, at least with 32 games remaining.

It is an issue that manager Davey Johnson believes will need to be addressed. He said it is a top concern going forward.

"Not having the left-handed presence that we had last year," Johnson said when asked what needed to be fixed. "We need to get that established going forward. (Ian) Krol has high promise. (Fernando) Abad has done a good job, except he hasn't pitched well off of left-handers. I think they hit close to .330 off of him (.327 in 28 games, .500 slugging).

"So missing that side of the bullpen, and having to use Clipp more as my left-hander early, which caused me to use him more than I would have had to, even a lot of times I had to use those guys in tie games or even just close games. That has to be ironed out going this last month and for the future. You have to have a left side of the bullpen."

Closer Rafael Soriano has struggled at times the last couple of weeks, allowing run-scoring innings when the team needed three outs for a win. Johnson said Soriano's struggles are not because he is tired.

"I don't think anyone is worn down. He hasn't made the pitches that he has made in the past. I don't know if the high fastball gets by more in the american league than the national league. I didn't see him last year.

Instead, Johnson said Soriano is not using his slider as much this season and is having trouble getting it over effectively with the Nats.

"I don't think his slider this year has been as good as last year," Johnson said. "He has got the pedigree. We still have the confidence in him."

Johnson also credited Clippard for being a big part of when the bullpen has been good this season. The manager believes believes there are other strengths in the relief corps - either here now, or returning in September with roster additions.

"(Clippard) has been outstanding. He has been the best pitcher, really, on the staff. 58 innings, 28 hits, how do you do that?" Johnson said.

"(Drew) Storen, I don't think he could pitch any better than he did in '11. We still have high hopes for him. They are all quality pitchers. (Ryan) Mattheus will be back soon. He was a big part of the bullpen.

With Soriano struggling,would Johnson consider using Clippard as a closer in the final month of the season?

"I could. I could. We will see how it shakes out going forward," Johnson said.

It is a role Clippard has wanted to take on his whole career.

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