Inside Pitch: It's All About The Bullpen

The Nationals won 81 games last season in no small part because of the reliable work of their bullpen. Fifteen games into the 2006 season, they're finding out just how valuable a good relief corps can be.

Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton, the two left-handers who were such a big part of last season's success, are not getting the job done this time around. Both played huge roles in Wednesday night's 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Phillies, and it's not because either veteran was beaten around by the Philadelphia lineup.

Rather, it was Eischen and Stanton's inability to throw strikes that doomed Washington. Eischen entered in the eighth with the Nationals clinging to a 6-5 lead and proceeded to walk both hitters he faced. Stanton entered in the 10th and walked two men before surrendering the game-winning single to Ryan Howard.

"To do that is just absolutely unacceptable," Stanton said. "(Manager) Frank (Robinson) gave me the ball. I had a job to do, and I didn't come anywhere close to getting the job done."

This has been a lingering problem for Eischen. In five innings this season, he's now put 18 men on base, including nine walks. With talented left-hander Bill Bray pitching well at Triple-A New Orleans, Eischen's job could be in jeopardy.

NAT NOTES:

  • Cristian Guzman, on the 15-day disabled list with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, is expected to join the Nationals' extended spring training in Viera, Florida, later this week. Though it looks as though Guzman will avoid season-ending surgery, he still faces a lengthy rehabilitation and likely won't be ready for major league action for some time.
  • Jose Guillen returned to the Nationals' lineup Wednesday after missing four games with a strained oblique muscle. Guillen tested his injury during batting practice and emerged feeling good enough to play. He's gotten off to a rough start to the season, entering Wednesday's game with a .222 average, one homer and three RBI. He went 2-for-4 in his return, with a double and a sacrifice fly.
  • Ryan Church homered Wednesday night for the fourth time in nine plate appearances, a remarkable turnaround for a player who was hitting .130 at Triple-A New Orleans and then went hitless in his first seven at-bats upon being recalled. Despite playing in only five of the Nationals' 15 games, Church now leads the club in homers. Manager Frank Robinson said the sudden upswing is a result of Church's better approach at the plate. "He has a little better idea," Robinson said. "He's a little bit more selective at the plate than he was."
  • Livan Hernandez hit his eighth career homer Wednesday night, crushing a 1-0 pitch from Phillies RHP Gavin Floyd to left, nearly reaching the second deck at Citizens Bank Park. Hernandez, who homered twice last season, doubled in each of his next two at-bats.

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