Nationals starting pitchers have gotten off to a strong start to 2013, putting up a 3.09 ERA collectively with six quality starts in 10 games.
Nationals relievers, however, have had some issues through the season's first 10 contests.
The guys in the Nats' bullpen have posted a 6.34 ERA over 32 2/3 innings. Tonight, three Nationals relievers combined to surrender five runs over three frames, turning a 4-1 lead into a 6-4 loss in 10 innings.
This isn't what most people expected, given the talent and past history of the guys in the Nats' bullpen. The Nationals' relievers themselves acknowledge that things have to get better.
"Yeah, absolutely," said Tyler Clippard, who walked three hitters, allowed a hit and retired just two batters in the eighth. "We need to do better. Ross (Detwiler) pitched a hell of a game. It hurts. It hurts, obviously, for the club to get the loss. But it hurts for him. Both of his outings have been amazing. So a bullpen, collectively, to have your starter do what he did and not get the win for him is very, very disappointing for us as a group and I know for me, too."
Despite the bullpen struggles, we're just 10 games into the season. No one in that 'pen is starting to get too anxious about the way things have gone so far.
"I don't think anybody's panicking or anything," Clippard said. "Everyone's kind of where they need to be. It's more or less of getting out there and executing like we know we can. And that's kind of what it comes down to. If it's one of those things where we have to go through a little bit of a lull in our season, might as well get it out of the way now and be lights-out down the stretch. Because we're playing good right now, and this stuff's going to happen throughout the season. As long as we can limit it as much as possible and get it out of the way early, we'll be fine."
Said Drew Storen, who blew the save after allowing two runs (one earned) in 1 1/3 innings: "I think that's one of the things about being a bullpen that makes us special down there is that we have short memories and we understand that it's a long season. We're going to swallow that, learn from it, and move on."
Clippard has now allowed four runs, three hits and four walks in his last three outings, but he says the issue is command, not anything to do with his stuff or arm strength.
"Yeah, my stuff's good," Clippard said. "I've been feeling really good as far as that's concerned. Just the execution wasn't there. My change-up was nonexistent tonight. I wasn't able to put that where I want to, and that hasn't happened in a long time. That was frustrating. But we've got a 1 o'clock game (tomorrow), which is nice. Get back on it."
Storen nearly wrapped up the win in the ninth when he got a groundball to third off the bat of Justin Upton with the bases loaded and two outs. Ryan Zimmerman had a tough decision to make on the play, however, as he didn't have much chance to get Upton at first and was too far off the bag at third to make a play there. He opted to fling the ball to second to try and force Jason Heyward, but the ball skipped into right field, bringing in the game-tying runs.
"Tough play," Zimmerman said. "I think, obviously, first base is out of the question. I'm not gonna beat the guy to third. I thought if I turn and make a perfect throw, I had a chance to get the guy bang-bang at second. Obviously, Heyward's fast. It's really tough as a competitor to just catch the ball and throw it back to Drew and just have the bases loaded. In hindsight, obviously that would have been the better play. I thought if I made a little better throw that we could get the guy at second. I'm trying to end the game, and that's what I'm supposed to do."
In two of their three losses this season, the Nats have had bullpen issues and made defensive miscues that have led to blown leads. That's a common theme dating back to the National League Division Series last season that Zimmerman singles out as something that must improve.
"I think we definitely need to learn from our mistakes," Zimmerman said. "It's the same thing that kind of got us last year, and why we didn't maybe move on (in the playoffs), because we couldn't close games out both pitching and defense-wise. We need to get better at that and learn from our mistakes.
"But this bullpen is really good, and they've been good for a long time. Just like as hitters, the league adjusts to pitchers. They're going to have to look, just like we do, go back and see what the hitters are doing to them now. And now it's their turn to adjust, just like we have to do."