For the last few days, Nationals manager Davey Johnson has been talking about the top item on his wish list - a right-handed long reliever for his bullpen - and bending general manager Mike Rizzo's ear about what it would take to get one. His request should be answered tonight.
The Nationals optioned Atahualpa Severino back to the minors, and will call up Collin Balester in time for tonight's game. Balester pitched four innings at Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday, and the former starter could have the stuff to give Johnson the innings he's been seeking out of the bullpen.
It's been clear early in Johnson's tenure that he wants a very different bullpen configuration than Jim Riggleman did; he places a high priority on having pitchers who can make an emergency start or eat innings out of the bullpen, and uses less of his resources on pitchers who would work only in specific situations. That way of assembling a bullpen isn't as popular today as it was when Johnson first started managing in the 1980s and 1990s, but he's also fighting against what many people think has been an overcorrection in the game - a drift toward bloated bullpens who have a reliever for every situation, but lack the resources to soak up the middle innings of a game.
Riggleman and Manny Acta used their late-inning relievers more often because they'd occasionally have them pitch in mop-up roles, but with Johnson, the Nationals' best relievers are more likely to pitch only when the team is winning or the game is close. It's a different way of managing the bullpen, but it could benefit pitchers like Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus, in particular. Mattheus pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Nationals' win over the Braves last night, and it's clear he's becoming one of Johnson's trusted options when he wants to give Clippard a break.
Speaking of the bullpen, the more observant among you at last night's game might have noticed that Todd Coffey switched his entrance music, ditching the Ultimate Warrior's music when he sprints in from the bullpen. Coffey, who said he'd been thinking about switching things up for the last few days, ultimately settled on the march from the Bill Murray classic "Stripes." "I was digging through my thousands of songs (Sunday night)," Coffey said, "and I thought, 'Hey, this could work. '"
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