Balester comes through in long relief

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has been waiting for a spot to use right-hander Collin Balester in long relief, and Jason Marquis’ 1 1/3-inning start Sunday provided a good opportunity for Balester to get stretched out.

Midway through the sixth inning, the Pirates still hold an 8-2 lead, but Balester has been strong in relief after a shaky start.

Balester allowed an RBI single to Neil Walker and a run-scoring double to Lyle Overbay, the first two hitters he faced, but has checked the Pirates since. In four innings, Balester gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits, walked two and struck out five. Johnson just removed him with one down in a double switch that also brought Alex Cora into the game to play first base and Henry Rodriguez in to pitch.

The question is: Will this be enough for Balester to retain his spot on the 25-man roster?

The Nats need a spot starter Tuesday and they’ll need to make a roster move to accommodate the arrival of left-hander Ross Detwiler, who is expected to get the call-up from Triple-A Syracuse. Conventional wisdom would say that Balester wouldn’t be available for a couple of days, so he might be the logical choice to be demoted.

It’s entirely possible Johnson was willing to sacrifice Balester today, knowing that a move was forthcoming early next week. The same could be said for Rodriguez, who is pitching for the first time since Monday after a bout with strep throat. Johnson might leave Rodriguez in for a while in a blowout just to get in some work.