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Nats getting bullpen back in order

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Nats getting bullpen back in order

They've gone through four different closers. They've had five different guys succumb to injury. And they've been forced to readjust roles far too many times already in a season that's only 2 12 months old.

Through it all, the Nationals bullpen has managed to get the job done and enters the week third in the NL with a 3.11 ERA, second in the league with a .217 opponents' batting average and third in the league with a .655 opponents' OPS.

"I think the bullpen has performed great," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Yeah, they've been mixing and matching, and there's been role adjustments and personnel adjustments and a lot of different things going on. But I think they've done great."

Successful or not, the Nationals have been counting down the days until they could get their full complement of relievers back together as one cohesive unit. They're almost there at last.

Ryan Mattheus' return from the disabled list yesterday helped bring some order back to the bullpen (though it cost veteran Brad Lidge his job). Henry Rodriguez is due to return from the DL himself "very soon," according to Rizzo.

And most importantly, closer Drew Storen continues to progress in his recovery from elbow surgery and remains confident he can make his season debut around next month's All-Star break.

"It feels really good. It feels a lot stronger," said Storen, who has been throwing off a mound three days a week. "I just know we're still on track for that All-Star break."

Storen's impending return will be particularly beneficial to a Nationals relief corps that has done its best to fill in for its injured closer but could certainly use some stability in the ninth-inning role ... not to mention some added depth for the seventh and eighth innings.

Though Tyler Clippard has gone a perfect 9-for-9 in save opportunities over the last three weeks, the right-hander figures to slide back into his setup role once Storen returns. Paired with left-hander Sean Burnett (who boasts a 1.17 ERA), the Nationals could boast as dominant a bullpen trio as there is in baseball.

Each reliever who returns, however, requires an open roster spot, which leads to some difficult decisions for Rizzo. He already made a tough call yesterday designating Lidge for assignment after the veteran right-hander was scored upon in three of four appearances since returning from sports hernia surgery.

And there will be more changes to come in the next few weeks.

"It's very tough, because when the music stops, someone's going to be left without a chair," Rizzo said. "You look at the number of people there, there's going to be a very talented, very successful person, whoever that is."

One such dilemma would seem to involve Rodriguez, the flame-throwing right-hander who dazzled early this season with his triple-digit fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball but who lost all ability to throw strikes before landing on the DL with a minor finger strain.

What do the Nationals do with Rodriguez, who is out of minor-league options and would almost certainly be claimed off waivers by another club that can afford to use a roster spot on a pitcher still trying to work out his issues?

As one club official put it bluntly: "Henry's not going anywhere."

Not wanting to give up on a reliever with that kind of dominant repertoire -- especially after seeing Joel Hanrahan resurrect his career in Pittsburgh after getting shipped out of Washington three years ago following a similar bout of wildness -- the Nationals are determined to keep Rodriguez and hope he discovers some semblance of consistency.

The Nationals do face a dilemma foreign to them over the last several years. In the past, when they sat well back in the NL East, they could afford to use a roster spot or two on "projects," guys who might struggle at times right now but could pay off down the road.

Does that philosophy change now that they're in first place?

"No," Rizzo said. "We're never going to forgo depth and talent over immediacy. We're never going to do that."

That approach could wind up forcing a productive pitcher who happens to still have options (ie. Mattheus or Craig Stammen) back to Class AAA at some point. It's a sacrifice the organization would be willing to make to ensure they maintain as much depth as possible over a season that could extend into October.

In the meantime, they'll just keep mixing and matching whatever group of seven relievers they currently have, hoping this unit can continue to perform despite the constant change.

"Davey's done a great job keeping guys in roles, for as much as they've been moving around," Storen said. "In the past, it's been kind of random roles even when guys were healthy. He does a great job of defining that. I think they've done a great job adjusting and hanging with them, because there's been some injuries dealt and some big changes around."

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Turner, Adams power Nats over Giants to end 4-game skid

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Turner, Adams power Nats over Giants to end 4-game skid

SAN FRANCISCO -- Trea Turner got five hits, Matt Adams homered and drove in six runs, and the Washington Nationals broke out of their offensive funk in a big way, routing the San Francisco Giants 15-2 Wednesday to end a four-game losing streak.

The Nationals had totaled just eight runs during their skid. Andrew Stevenson had two doubles, two singles and four RBIs as Washington set season highs for runs and hits (18).

Manager Dave Martinez's ballclub has been stunted by a rash of injuries this season but salvaged the final game of the three-game series at AT&T Park series to end a rough 4-5 road trip. Max Scherzer (5-1) did his part, striking out 10 in six innings.

Turner came into the game batting .232, and the leadoff man's slow start had contributed to the Nationals' struggles. He raised his batting average 35 points, tying a career high for hits in a game. He also scored twice, drove in two runs and stole his 10th base this season.

Adams matched his career best for RBIs. He singled as part of a three-run first, put the Nationals up 6-1 with a three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija (1-1) in the fourth and added a two-run single in the eighth.

The Nationals scored 14 of their 15 runs with two outs.

Scherzer earned his fourth consecutive win, all of them coming after a Washington loss. He allowed two runs and five hits, and reached double figures in strikeouts for the fourth time in six starts this season.

Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval each two hits apiece for the Giants.

Samardzija labored through a 30-pitch first inning and was done after retiring 11 batters. He gave up six runs on eight hits with three walks.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman and 2B Howie Kendrick were given the day off.

Giants: Mac Williamson was a late scratch because of neck stiffness, one day after stumbling over the bullpen pitching mound and crashing into a low fence while chasing a foul ball. ... RHP Chris Stratton was placed on the paternity list. ... RHP Roberto Gomez was called up from Triple-A Sacramento.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (2-2, 2.97 ERA) pitches against the Diamondbacks on Friday in Washington. He has yielded six earned runs and three homers over his last 13 innings.

Giants: LHP Derek Holland (0-3, 4.98) faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a four-game series at AT&T Park on Friday night. Holland is winless in two career starts against the Dodgers.

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Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

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Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mac Williamson had to dust himself off after crashing into a low padded wall near the stands in left field while chasing a foul ball.

More frustrated than hurt, Williamson took it out on Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark a few moments later after undergoing a series of concussion tests in the dugout.

Williamson homered for the second straight night and third in five games, hitting a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.

"I got pretty lucky," Williamson said. "I felt fine then and I feel fine now. I'm sure once the adrenalin wears off later tonight, tomorrow we'll see how the body feels. I'm sure I'll be a little sore."

Brandon Belt hit his fifth home run in six games, Joe Panik added three hits and scored twice, and the Giants won their third straight and fourth in the last five.

One night after hitting a 464-foot homer in the series opener, Williamson hit a first-pitch solo shot to center off Roark with two outs in the sixth inning that bounced off the top of the wall and broke a 3-all tie. It wasn't as far as Monday's clout -- this one went 423 feet -- but was just as pivotal for the Giants.

"We've talked about what a shot in the arm he's been and he's more than that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He came through again tonight. Good for him because he's worked hard at it."

Williamson's deciding home run came one inning after he stumbled over the bullpen mound in foul territory and crashed into a low wall near the stands while trying to chase down Bryce Harper's foul ball. Williamson stayed down briefly as team trainers rushed out before getting to his feet.

"I tried to roll my neck a little bit and my head down a little bit when I started going down," Williamson said. "I think that helped break my fall. I was just a little frustrated I didn't come up with the play. I had it in my glove and it came out."

Belt hit a two-run shot off Roark (1-2) in the third.

Michael Taylor had a three-run homer for Washington, which has lost four straight and 14 of 20 since opening the season 4-0.

"It seems like that sixth inning's been biting us in the rear as of late," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We're swinging the bats. We just can't get the big hit with people on base."

Reyes Moronta (1-0) retired six batters for his first career win. Sam Dyson pitched one inning and Hunter Strickland worked the ninth for his fifth save.

The Giants got a run off Roark in the first but left the bases loaded when Evan Longoria struck out looking to end the inning. Belt homered on a 3-2 pitch from Roark in the second to make it 3-0.

Washington tied it on Taylor's three-run homer off starter Ty Blach in the third. Ryan Zimmerman walked and Moises Sierra singled before Taylor's deep drive into the right-field stands.

Roark went into the game 6-0 in seven career games against San Francisco but couldn't find a rhythm this time. He allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.

WHERE DID IT GO?

Panik hit a soft comebacker to Roark in the fifth that glanced off the pitcher's glove then bounced up on the top of his cap before falling to the turf. Roark initially couldn't locate the ball but found it in time to throw to first for the out.

AILING BLACH

Blach allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. After the game, Bochy said the left-hander suffered from food poisoning last week and was given an IV on Monday. "That was a really gutty effort that he gave us," Bochy said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 10-disabled list with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow. Infielder/outfielder Matt Reynolds was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse and outfielder Rafael Bautista and infielder Adrian Sanchez were called up.

UP NEXT

Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (4-1, 1.36 ERA) and Giants RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) take to the mound for the series finale at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Samardzija is making his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list.