|Washington's bullpen, in picture form
Washington's bullpen did what it does best last night, imploding to the tune of nine runs in four innings on the way to a 12-7 loss to the Pirates.
Nationals relievers have now allowed an astounding 101 runs in 128 innings, going 1-13 with 13 blown saves and a 6.68 ERA that's not only the worst in MLB but is on pace to become the worst bullpen ERA in baseball history.
As you might expect, manager Manny Acta is nearing the end of his rope:
It was just sad to see the way things are going with our bullpen. I've been in the game for a while, and I've never seen anything like it. We're just going to have to change the mindset over there. Some things have to change. Just change it up, because it's not working. We went from young guys to veteran guys and veterans or young, they're not getting it done. Because we're not going to keep this up. We've got to try new people in here. Simple as that.
Trying new people hasn't been the problem for Acta, as the Nationals have already used 13 different relievers while playing a total of 37 games. And they're ready to add to that total, as Chico Harlan of the Washington Post reports that the recently signed Mike MacDougal may soon get a call-up. MacDougal was released by the White Sox after posting a 5.94 ERA during the past three seasons, so he'll fit right in.
Obviously everything that Acta and the Nationals have tried so far has failed, but they've also compounded the problems with some very questionable decision-making. Joel Hanrahan is the bullpen's best arm, but was quickly removed from the closer role after a few blown saves so that the team could go with washed-up veterans Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez in the late innings.
Similarly, cutting Steven Shell after he allowed three runs in five innings was incredibly foolish. Shell had a 2.16 ERA and 41/20 K/BB ratio in 50 innings as a rookie last season, but general manager Mike Rizzo let him go because the team didn't like his "mindset on the mound" and "the whole aura behind him." Seriously.
Things will eventually get better for the Nationals' bullpen, and not just because they can't possibly get any worse. Hanrahan has a 22/8 K/BB ratio in 17.1 innings, so his ERA should resemble last season's 3.95 mark soon enough, and Joe Beimel will be a quality setup man as usual if he's not asked to close. Garrett Mock should bounce back from some ugly appearances to be a decent sixth- or seventh-inning option.
Letting a solid middle reliever like Shell go for nothing was stupid, but Ron Villone, Jesus Colome, and perhaps even Saul Rivera are still usable middle men and simply giving up the notion that Wells or Tavarez can help a team with their "veteran presence" despite being horrible pitchers would help too.