New-look bullpen continues to impress

Remember when, coming out of spring training, the Nationals used Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez as their two ninth-inning arms out of the bullpen?

Those days seem so long ago, don't they?

With Drew Storen on the disabled list, Davey Johnson had Lidge and Rodriguez working the back-ends of his "A" and "B" bullpens. Things worked out well at first, as Lidge recorded two saves early in the season while Rodriguez looked like a new man for the first couple weeks of the year.

Now, Lidge has been designated for assignment while Rodriguez combusted and then landed on the disabled list (and while he's close to starting a rehab assignment, we have no idea what to expect of the flame-throwing righty when he returns). Storen, meanwhile, is still working his way back from elbow surgery, and won't be available for at least another couple weeks.

And yet, despite all the turmoil and turnover at the back of their 'pen, the Nats still are getting exceptional work out of their relievers.

Tyler Clippard couldn't possibly be pitching any better in the closer's role, as he's converted all nine save opportunities since he started getting the ball in the ninth inning, and has pitched scoreless ball in 15 of his last 16 appearances.

Craig Stammen has been a godsend, posting a 1.53 ERA in 29 1/3 innings and somehow serving as both a right-handed long-reliever and a go-to late-inning arm.

Sean Burnett continues to excel, and his ERA now stands at 1.17 after another scoreless inning yesterday.

These are relievers that we knew would be counted on this season, but we couldn't have imagined they'd be performing this well in these crucial roles. Given the injuries and performance issues with the guys originally set up to work the late-innings, Clippard, Stammen and Burnett have played a major factor in the Nats being 12 games above-.500 this late into June.

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