What's the state of the Nats pitching staff tonight?

BALTIMORE - The Nationals have spent the better part of a week trying to get their bullpen back in order. Just when it looked they had done it, they were forced to cobble together yet another game Tuesday night, needing 5 1/3 innings from their relief corps after starter Reynaldo Lopez was bumped early.

It could have been a lot worse, though. Matt Belisle (three innings), Oliver Perez (one inning) and Yusmeiro Petit (1 1/3 innings) joined forces to get the staff through what wound up an 8-1 loss to the Orioles, allowing manager Dusty Baker to give four others (Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Koda Glover) a much-needed night off.

Belisle-Throws-Red-Sidebar.jpgBelisle was the key to the whole package. The veteran right-hander turned in his longest relief appearance in five years, helping make Lopez's early departure less devastating to the staff as a whole.

"Man, that was a life-saver," Baker said. "He said he wanted to give us some more, but he was throwing the ball good. He was throwing the ball great, actually. You need that kind of performance, an extended performance. He realized our bullpen was in bad shape and just trying to get back together. That was a gutsy performance. That's something that we all appreciated."

Thus concluded a nine-game road trip in which Nationals relievers threw a total of 34 innings and 534 pitches, an average of nearly four innings and 59 pitches per game.

They aren't out of the woods quite yet. The Nats still need quality starts the next two nights from Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer to ensure the bullpen gets enough rest to get back on track.

"Usually they go deep in the ballgame," Baker said. "We got some tough bats to face over there. But we are in a lot better shape than we were two days ago. Belisle saved us, and Petit didn't go that long and neither did Perez. We're still in pretty good shape."

That said, the Nationals could still make a move to add another reliever soon. They could option either of the last two nights' starters (Lopez and A.J. Cole) and call up a reliever to take the spot. That could then bridge the gap until the weekend, when they'll need a fifth starter again.

That assignment might well go to Lucas Giolito. The top pitching prospect started Tuesday night's game for Triple-A Syracuse but was pulled after only one inning (not for injury reasons). That would leave him on schedule and available to pitch for the Nationals sometime this weekend against the Rockies.

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