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Nats bullpen in latest state of flux


Nats bullpen in latest state of flux

It was cause for concern in April, but then cause for comfort in May. What, then, will the Nationals' bullpen cause in June: Soothing relief or heartburn?

We won't know the answer to that question for awhile, but we do know that group continues to deal with changes in personnel and in roles.

The Nationals already have used 16 different relievers in two months (OK, 15 plus outfielder-turned-mop-up-man Clint Robinson). That's four more relievers than they used in all of 2014, only six shy of the club record set during an awful 2009 campaign.

More turnover came over the last few days, with Taylor Hill recalled from Class AAA Syracuse to assume Stephen Strasburg's roster spot, then Felipe Rivero replacing Matt Grace on Monday in a swap of lefties that came on the heels of a rough weekend sweep at the hands of the Reds.

"It's a little bit interchangeable," manager Matt Williams said of bullpens in general. "And depending on who you have, sometimes the bullpen is fairly set for their roles, but sometimes you have to make adjustments."

Williams has been forced to make plenty of adjustments so far when it comes to relievers' roles. Aside from Drew Storen holding a firm grasp on the closer's job, everyone else has been used in just about every situation to date this season.

Blake Treinen got a chance to pitch the eighth inning in April, but that didn't work out too well. Aaron Barrett did perform well for awhile in that spot, but the second-year right-hander has given up eight runs in his last five innings and now sports a 5.19 ERA.

The delayed debut of Casey Janssen two weeks ago following shoulder tendinitis appeared to be a significant boost for this group, and it may yet prove to be just that. Janssen was fantastic in his first three outings, capped by a nifty escape act at Wrigley Field, but then the veteran was torched for four runs in the eighth inning of Saturday's loss in Cincinnati.

"It's still early in his process," Williams said. "He had some really good outings, and then had one that wasn't so good. He's itching to get the ball again. He's got experience; the resume speaks for itself. So he's been in those pressure situations, he understands it. He's a guy that fits in the back of that bullpen."

The Nationals already have used five different lefties out of the pen — Matt Thornton, Xavier Cedeno, Sammy Solis, Rivero and Grace — and most have been used interchangeably. Thornton is by far the most experienced and accomplished southpaw in the group, but Williams has been careful not to run the 38-year-old into the ground so far: Thornton has pitched back-to-back days only three times this season and has made 11 of his 20 overall appearances on at least two days' rest.

The loss of Craig Stammen to a season-ending forearm injury has been noticeable, and the recent move of Tanner Roark into the rotation to replace the injured Doug Fister also has diminished the Nationals' bullpen.

Yet for the most part, this ever-changing group has gotten the job done. The Nats bullpen's 3.58 ERA ranks sixth in the NL, its 2.58 strikeout-to-walk rate fifth in the league.

"There are adjustments that need to be made sometimes," Williams said. "But what we want to have is going into the seventh, eighth and ninth with a lead. We'll be able to have our guys go out there and hopefully be able to hold those runners down and win those games. We've seen that a lot. It's happened a lot. The last three games not withstanding, it's been fairly good."


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Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

NEW YORK – A few constants remain during this wayward Nationals season. One is Max Scherzer.

Scherzer comes into Tuesday leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's second in strikeouts per nine innings and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Scherzer's 3.72 ERA is well above his average of 2.71 since arriving in Washington in 2015. However, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is a league-leading 2.45, showing he has been victimized by bad defense more than bad pitching.

He hopped on a pop-up edition of The Racing Presidents podcast Tuesday in New York. Sitting in the visitors dugout a day ahead of another matchup with 2018 Cy Young Award Jacob deGrom, Scherzer touched on lighter topics, like his selection of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre" as his walkup song, and addressed who is responsible for the Nationals being seven games under .500 the last year-plus.

We're all responsible," Scherzer said. "When you wear a hat and jersey that says Nationals on it, we're all in the same position. It's frustrating to not have a winning record. It's frustrating not to be winning as a team. [Since] I've been here, we've won a couple division titles and you know that feeling of what it's like to win. You know you have the core group of players who have won here in the past that can win here again. It's just a matter of figuring out what the right chemistry is and going out there and getting it done."

Scherzer is in his 12th major-league season. He's made at least 30 starts for 10 consecutive seasons. One of the reasons for his lack of injuries and durability is not because he goes through extensive recuperation during the offseason. Instead, Scherzer keeps pushing both his arm and body. 

"I try to find a way to continue to do more, to take more on my body even as I age," Scherzer said.

And, about that walkup song, which is part-protest, part-comeback song? He was out to dinner with reliever Aaron Barrett when it popped on and Barrett suggested it as this year's entrance music.

So, click below to listen to everything Scherzer had to say in our exclusive interview. Also, don't forget to download, rate and subscribe to The Racing Presidents podcast. We're with you after every game and with marquee interviews and insight you can't find elsewhere.


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The history of Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier's beef, explained

The history of Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier's beef, explained

Ever since they were teammates in Chicago on the White Sox, Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier haven't gotten along. Here's a breakdown of Eaton and Frazier's beef, and how it boiled over during Monday's 5-3 loss to the New York Mets.


Eaton and Frazier started their tenure with the White Sox on bad terms. The team was in the midst of a full rebuild, and Adam LaRoche retired after his son, Drake, was no longer allowed in the clubhouse.

With what appeared to be a vacuum in leadership, Eaton tried stepping up but it fell on deaf ears, particularly Frazier's.

Frazier, whose locker was next to Eaton's, called him out for being a phony according to 670 the Score. That spat led to a locker room fight.

Eaton's locker was then moved across the room from Frazier's, and the two were both eventually traded for picks and prospects.


During the Nationals' visit to New York on August 26, Eaton slid hard into second base, injuring Phillip Evans on the play. The Mets challenged the play as a violation of the slide rule, but Major League Baseball's review determined the slide was allowed.

The Mets didn't take kindly to it. Pitcher Zack Wheeler drilled Eaton, and as he trotted to first base, Frazier chirped him on his way there and Eaton responded.

 “When he usually talks or chirps, usually he says it just loud enough that you can hear him but you can’t understand him," Eaton told MASN after the game. "So I’ll just leave it at that.”


That brings us to Monday's 5-3 loss against the Mets. In the bottom of the third inning, as he was jogging to the dugout, Eaton got an earful from Frazier.

Eaton jawed back at Frazier, and other Nats players were ready to come to Eaton's defense before first base umpire Mike Estabrook impeded Eaton's progress toward Frazier.

After the game, Eaton unloaded. 

"I ignored him a couple times chirping coming across, but I had it to the point where I’m not going to say the saying I want to say but you got to be a man at some point," Eaton explained. "So, I turned around, had a few choice words with him. It’s funny, I was walking towards him, he didn’t really want to walk towards me but as soon as someone held him back then he was all of a sudden he was really impatient, like trying to get towards me. Just being Todd Frazier. What’s new?”

While Frazier kept quiet after the game, Tuesday he noted that Eaton should go "pay off your mortgage."

Before game time tonight, Eaton called the beef "high school stuff"

Will tonight's beef escalate during the game? Tune in at 7 p.m. to find out.