Sean Burnett has earned all three of the Nationals' saves this year, including a four-out save on Tuesday night against the Phillies in which he entered the game with a five-run lead in the eighth inning.
Drew Storen didn't pitch in that game, getting a day to rest while Burnett shut down a bases-loaded jam in the eighth before seeing his 22 2/3-inning scoreless streak end in the ninth. But despite the way the Nationals have gravitated toward Burnett in save situations early this year, manager Jim Riggleman continues to say Burnett is not the Nationals' full-time closer.
Riggleman said again on Wednesday that the Nationals are splitting ninth-inning duties between Burnett and Storen, adding the Nationals will continue to go with whichever pitcher gives them better matchups. But Burnett has gotten the call in all of those situations this year, facing twice as many right-handers (16) as left-handers.
Part of that is because the left-hander has pitched so well, both at the start of the season and in spring training. He earned a two-year contract extension with a stellar 2010 season in which he posted a 2.14 ERA in 73 games, and he's established himself as one of the team's most versatile relievers with his ability to throw a slider to right-handers for strikes.
But the Nationals also want Storen to grow into the closer's role, mindful of the apprenticeships relievers like Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon served before moving into the ninth-inning job. Storen is only 23, and the team is wary of putting him in high-pressure situations too early in his career. They spent a great deal of time working with him on fastball command this spring, and while that's paid off early (Storen has a 1.35 ERA in six appearances), they're not ready to hand him the job yet.
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