Bullpen wastes rally as Nats lose
Belliard ties game in seventh, but Rangers pull ahead in eighth
WASHINGTON -- Entering Sunday's action, the Nats' bullpen had the highest ERA in the National League, and it got a little higher on Sunday afternoon, as Washington was defeated by Texas, 5-3, at Nationals Park.
The game was tied at 3 when the Rangers took the lead in the eighth inning. With Luis Ayala on the mound, Brandon Boggs led off with a walk. Ayala, who had already given up a run in the game, was replaced by right-hander Joel Hanrahan. It looked like Hanrahan was going to get out of the inning, when he struck out Michael Young and Josh Hamilton, but he had a tough time getting that third out.
Hanrahan thought the key to the inning was walking Byrd. He thought he could get Byrd to chase a fastball high in the zone, but Byrd didn't budge.
"I worked hard and got Young and Hamilton out," Hanrahan said. "I threw some pitches to Byrd that he has been swinging at. He didn't chase it this time. It came back to bite me."
Entering the season, Washington's bullpen was supposed to be the strength of the team, but, with exception of Jon Rauch, the relievers have been inconsistent. The loss of closer Chad Cordero to a right shoulder adductor injury may have something to do with it.
The relievers now have new roles with Cordero gone. Ayala now pitches in the eighth inning, Saul Rivera pitches mostly in the seventh and Hanrahan pitches in the late innings.
Last year, Rivera was on the mound in the middle innings, Ayala pitched in the seventh and Hanrahan was a starter. Only Rauch, who was the eighth-inning guy last year, has flourished in his new role as closer and is considered an All-Star candidate.
"It's struggling right now, over the last few weeks," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said about the bullpen. "They are just making mistakes, leaving the ball over the middle of the plate. I don't think it's too much mechanical. They are not executing their pitches. I've looked at their deliveries and they are exactly on from last year.
"They can't seem to get out of that funk. When you try too hard, you make mistakes. They need to relax and execute their pitches. Hopefully, they'll get over this bump and put together a good streak."
Left-hander John Lannan is one Nationals starter who has been executing his pitches. He took the hill for Washington on Sunday and lasted six innings, giving up two runs on four hits.
The two runs both came on long balls. In the fourth inning, Boggs hit a mammoth shot over the left field wall, and Ian Kinsler went deep two innings later.
It was Lannan's 11th quality start of the season, but he has little to show for it, record-wise. He is 4-8 with a 3.34 ERA. It doesn't help he has the lowest run support in the Majors when he is in a game.
St. Claire, manager Manny Acta and general manager Jim Bowden have made sure that Lannan doesn't get mentally down because of the lack of wins.
"They are trying to make sure that I'm mentally all right," Lannan said. "It's kind of tough going out there and getting the same kind of start and the same results. They wanted to make sure I'm not down on myself. I am battling, and there isn't much I could do."
Washington also received a scare in the fifth inning when Saltalamacchia's line drive hit Lannan in the right wrist. However, Lannan remained in the game for another inning. In between innings, Lannan put the wrist in the cold ammonia bucket. After the game, it was learned that Lannan has a right wrist contusion. He will have a CAT scan on Monday.
Both Lannan and Acta feel he will not miss his next start.
"I'm a little sore, a little tight," Lannan said. "I see [the ball]. I got my glove on it. I threw my glove off because [the pain] was like pins and needles. I gave it a squeeze, found the ball and threw over to first. It's just tight right now -- just a little bruise."
Rangers right-hander Vicente Padilla was just as tough. He lasted seven innings and gave up three runs on five hits. But the long ball would haunt him as well. The Nationals made it a 2-1 game in the bottom of the sixth inning when Willie Harris hit a pinch-hit home run.
After Ramon Vazquez made it a 3-1 game with a pinch-hit single off Ayala, Ronnie Belliard tied the score at 3 with a two-run homer off Padilla.
But the Nationals couldn't enjoy their brief comeback, because of their inconsistent bullpen.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.