Tough bullpen decisions to come shortly (plus Maldonado injury note)

With the addition of Michael Gonzalez a couple days ago, the Nationals now have four lefties in their bullpen.

It might not be that way for long, however.

Both Brad Lidge and Ryan Mattheus are closing in on returns to the Nats, and when the righties are ready to come back, the team will need to make some tough decisions on how they want to structure their bullpen.

Lidge is pitching in his second rehab game for Single-A Potomac tonight as he works back from hernia surgery, while Mattheus, who is rehabbing from plantar fasciitis, threw a bullpen session at Nats Park today.

The session went well, according to manager Davey Johnson, and while the skipper says there's still some "puffiness" in Mattheus' left foot, he didn't have any discomfort throwing.

"Tomorrow he'll probably do a little PFP (pitchers' fielding practice) to see how he is covering first base and doing a little fielding," Johnson said. "But his arm's in great shape and it doesn't hurt him throwing, so for me, he's a candidate to come back quick."

Johnson has had discussions with trainers regarding Mattheus and Lidge. The team will need to decide "who's the safest to bring back and then who's the best to bring back, who's throwing the best," Johnson said. "Then it comes to who will we lose to make room for them."

One option the Nats could choose would be to keep one extra pitcher and utilize a 13-man pitching staff, as compared to the 12 they're carrying now.

Johnson usually isn't open to that idea, but with backup catcher Carlos Maldonado nursing a lingering back injury, the team might need to place him on the DL, which would clear up a roster spot.

"He's been on some pretty strong meds to try and lighten it up, and he still is not able to hit," Johnson said of Maldonado. "So we're down one short."

With the Nats currently carrying three catchers (something else Johnson isn't especially fond of), Jesus Flores and Jhonatan Solano could continue to carry the load if Maldonado is placed on the DL.

How soon will a decision on Maldonado need to be made?

"Probably as soon as I get through with this conversation," Johnson said. "We'll see. ... That's something we'll probably have to address before we leave town."

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