The Nationals were on the verge of a sweep of the Braves at the seventh-inning stretch Thursday night, with Jordan Zimmermann having struck out 11 batters as Washington took a 5-1 lead. But the way the Nationals handled their bullpen in the final innings of Thursday's 10-inning, 6-5 loss gave an interesting look into what they think of their relievers at the moment.
Tyler Clippard and Todd Coffey had put in heavy workloads during the series, and manager Jim Riggleman wanted to stay away from both pitchers, who are typically late-inning options. The Nationals have maintained that they don't have an official closer, but Drew Storen, who has been getting all of the late-inning work, was being saved for a lead.
That left Sean Burnett to come in with two men on base in the seventh inning, and after Burnett walked Brooks Conrad on a close pitch and gave up a game-tying grand slam, Riggleman went to left-handed specialist Doug Slaten for three innings.
Slaten had never pitched more than two innings, and he had only worked that much four times in his career. Yet Riggleman had him start a third inning, and in the 10th, he walked Martin Prado and eventually allowed a game-winning single to Brian McCann.
The Nationals also had Henry Rodriguez and Brian Broderick in the bullpen, but it was clear Riggleman didn't have enough confidence in them to use them in a tie game. Considering both were acquired before this season, it seems as if the team might have some problems with its bullpen construction.
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