NEW YORK - Twice this week, the Nationals used Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett - arguably their best three relievers - in that order. Evidence would suggest so far that they’re leaning toward putting the three in that order at the ends of games, with Burnett getting the saves. But manager Jim Riggleman said Friday that order hasn’t stratified yet, though he’d like to set one soon.
Riggleman said the Nationals will continue to pick their relievers early in the season based on matchups, though Burnett has saved both of the Nationals’ wins and has finished all four games he’s pitched. Had the Nationals taken the lead in the ninth inning of last night’s 11-inning win against the Marlins, Riggleman said he would have stuck with Storen for the bottom of the ninth instead of using Burnett in a save situation, adding he’d still lean toward Storen if the ninth inning meant a run of right-handed hitters.
Eventually, the Nationals would like to have relievers assigned to the last three innings of the game - Clippard in the seventh, Storen in the eighth and Burnett in the ninth, for example. That would cut down on the double switches that occasionally sap the Nationals’ bench, but more than that, it would have each of Washington’s three best relievers knowing what to expect.
“I always use San Diego as an example - backwards, 9-8-7, (they have Heath) Bell, (Mike) Adams, (Luke) Gregerson,” Riggleman said. “(We want to) just turn an inning over to one of those guys - whether it’s Clippard or (Todd) Coffey, Storen or Clippard, Burnett or Storen, turn it over to them so we don’t have to be doing the double switching, have somebody finish an inning and make sure he can pitch the next one. We don’t want to be doing that.”
It would help if the Nationals could starting pitchers deeper in the game; they haven’t had one go seven innings yet, though Riggleman said he feels comfortable with Coffey and Doug Slaten in the sixth inning. But longer starts would allow the Nationals to almost put their bullpen on autopilot.
If and when Henry Rodriguez returns to the bullpen, his presence could affect the late-inning order somewhat. At the moment, though, the Nationals are officially still feeling things out, even if it looks like they’re moving toward a set order.
“I want to see a little bit of what I saw last night,” Riggleman said. “With what Clippard and Storen did last night, if we can continue that type of performance, we’ve got something.”