Wire Taps: Washington Nationals' Drew Storen And Sean Burnett Are The New Rauch And Cordero.

From the Federal Baseball Archives (3/3/10):

"Also under consideration for the bullpen are some of the starters who don't make the rotation, as well as the Nationals' 2nd '09 1st Round pick, Drew Storen, who was the Stanford Cardinal closer before his selection 10th overall in last year's Draft. DC GM Mike Rizzo and his scouts seem to think Storen's Major League-ready, but like his fellow first round pick, Storen may start the season in the minors and come up in June. Matt Capps is expected to be the closer, though both Brian Bruney and Storen will be pushing for a shot. Craig Stammen's been mentioned as a potential long man in the pen, which would most likely be Jason Bergmann's role if he makes the roster. Clippard and Walker will work the 6th/7th and then [Sean] Burnett and [Ron] Villone are available for lefty vs lefty matchups with one or the other working late with Bruney to set up Capps. Much better than what Jim Bowden had in the pen for Washington to start the 2009 campaign."

Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman told MASN's Nats Xtra's Johnny Holliday and Phil Wood in a post game interview following yesterday's series-clinching win over the Atlanta Braves that the 2010 bullpen is a "bright spot" for his club, and though he knows the Nats' relievers, "might go out there a little more often, a little earlier than people might think is the proper way to do it...it's such a strength for our ballclub, they've established themselves as the strength of our pitching staff, so if there's a game situation we feel like we can use them in we're going to put them out there." John Lannan threw 6.0 innings Wednesday before handing the ball and a 4-2 lead to Joel Peralta, who gave up a double and a sac bunt then handed the ball to Sean Burnett who got a short liner to second and a swinging K to get out of the seventh without allowing the Braves' runner, Eric Hinske, to score from third. Burnett threw a scoreless eighth giving up a leadoff single, but getting a backwards K and a double play to get through the frame and set Drew Storen up for his fourth major league save since he took over as the Nats' closer following Matt Capps' departure at the 2010 Trade Deadline.  

A year after the Nats' bullpen was seemingly an afterthought for the former DC GM, the current general manager has turned the late inning relievers into a strength for the still-struggling Nats, who transitioned from the four-month reign of Matt Capps to the new era of Drew Storen seemingly without a hitch. Storen's fourth save of 2010 was his first in over two weeks, but that has more to do with the team's overall success than Storen's efforts, as he's blown just one of four opportunities since taking over as closer. The 23-year-old '09 1st Round pick hasn't allowed a run in September, throwing 6.0-straight scoreless, and as he told MASN's Debbi Taylor in a post game interview, "...the bullpen as a whole, we've just taken pride in really enjoying what we do," and personally, Storen says:

"I've learned a lot just in the last couple weeks, really made a lot of big adjustments and so now I'm kind of applying them to the game and luckily like I said, I've got a great support system with [Pitching Coach Steve McCatty] helping me out a bunch and obviously great catchers that are helping me out too."

Matt Capps was shipped to Minnesota for one of the two catchers, Wilson Ramos, who are currently behind the plate, but it's the presence of his fellow backstop, future Hall of Fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez (in spite of his struggles at the plate) that has surely provided a steadying influence on all of the Nats' pitchers. One of DC GM Mike Rizzo's other significant acquisitions via trade, Sean Burnett, has had a breakout year as well. Burnett, who's thrown 9.0 scoreless innings since last allowing a run on August 25th, told MASN's Debbi Taylor in an interview in Atlanta that the key for him has been finally getting back to full strength, "The biggest thing for me is staying healthy, my sinker's been good, and my change up, I'm starting to throw that more a lot this year and it seems to be working," and though the 27-year-old lefty (who turns 28 tomorrow) says he has some improvements to make like getting, "lefties out a little better than I have this year," the bullpen, Burnett says, "takes pride in trying to hold the game where it's at and hopefully turn things around, [and] the bullpen's been a strong part for us." 

Craig Stammen has transitioned to the bullpen as predicted by some before the season began. Miguel Batista has played an invaluable role and eaten (maybe too many) innings for the Nats, saving some of the younger pitchers from being overworked. Joel Peralta, who signed with the Nats in December, put together a successful stint as the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs' closer and got himself a call up to the majors where he's remained since June. Doug Slaten, a waiver selection from the Arizona Diamondbacks has outperformed expectations. Tyler Clippard, who remains second on the team in wins, has had an up and down but mostly successful season first setting up Matt Capps and now supporting Storen as he's transitioned to the closer's role, and even Collin Balester has had success working out of the pen since he was recalled for his latest stint in the majors, with 5.1 scoreless IP in which he's allowed just one hit in September. 

Not every move the DC GM made this offseason worked out. Brian Bruney never got it together, and he was released before the end of May. Ron Villone, who Collin Balester claims had a big influence on his transition to relieving, never came up from Syracuse and was released in early August. Tyler Walker's shoulder gave out before he was able to make any significant impact on the field. But a bullpen that had a NL-worst 5.09 ERA at the end of the '09 campaign, has lowered their collective ERA to 3.43 in 2010, good for 4th in the National League, with the second-most IP amongst NL teams, and what was obviously the biggest weakness on a team full of weak spots last season, has in fact become a bright spot for the 2010 team, and as Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore points out at the end of his own article examining the bullpen's success entitled, "Sean Burnett, Drew Storen highlight another good day for the Nationals bullpen", the Nationals now, "...have a potential core in place. Storen, Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Collin Balester are all 27 or younger." Now to just keep the bullpen together and healthy until the Nats are ready to compete...

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