Inside Pitch: Bullpen's Struggles Continue

The Nationals' bullpen struggles continue, and it's starting to cost the club games. When setup man Gary Majewski served up a three-run homer to Atlanta's Wilson Betemit in the eighth inning Sunday night, he ensured the fifth blown save in seven chances by the Washington bullpen this season.

That's a far cry from the unit's performance in 2005, when Nationals relievers posted a collective 3.55 ERA and paved the way for closer Chad Cordero to notch a league-best 47 saves. Eighteen games into the 2006 season, Washington's bullpen has a 5.11 ERA.

"Yeah, I have concerns," manager Frank Robinson said following Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Braves. "This is a game we should have put away tonight. We have to win those games."

REPLAY: Wilson Betemit's three-run homer in the eighth off Gary Majewski spoiled a brilliant pitching performance from Tony Armas Jr. and dealt the Nationals a frustrating 3-1 loss to the Braves at RFK Stadium.

Despite 6 1/3 shutout innings from Armas, the Washington bullpen could not hold the lead. Majewski gave up a triple to rookie Martin Prado to lead off the eighth, then walked Pete Orr before leaving a 94 mph fastball up to Betemit for the game-changing home run.

NATS NOTES & QUOTES

  • Alfonso Soriano seems to be debunking the myth that you can't hit home runs at RFK Stadium. Despite complaints from other Nationals about the spacious outfield gaps at their home ballpark, Soriano hit three homers Friday night against the Braves. Only one of the three was hit down the left-field line; the other two traveled well over the fence in left-center. In the process, he became the first leadoff hitter to hit three homers in one game since Cubs OF Brant Brown on June 18, 1998.
  • SS Cristian Guzman, currently participating in the Nationals' extended spring training in Viera, Florida, is expected to start a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A New Orleans within the next week. Guzman, on the disabled list with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, could be activated in about three weeks.
  • RHP Ramon Ortiz wasn't happy upon learning manager Frank Robinson was skipping his start following Saturday night's rainout at RFK Stadium. Ortiz, who has a 7.31 ERA through his first three outings, will be available out of the bullpen for the next week or so. His next scheduled start is now April 27 at St. Louis. "This is Frank's decision, but I don't like it," Ortiz said. "I like to pitch every five days. When you miss a game, you usually pitch the next day. He says no. He's the manager. ... I don't feel good about that."
  • RHP Pedro Astacio, on the disabled list since Opening Day with a strained right forearm, has not yet begun a throwing program. Once he does that, Astacio will go on a rehab assignment, making his return to the Nationals still a ways off.
  • Rookie 3B Ryan Zimmerman is one of only two National League third basemen to have started at least 15 games this season without committing an error. Arizona 3B Chad Tracy is the other.
THE NUMBERS GAME: .666 Nick Johnson's on-base percentage over a seven-game span from April 13-20 (22-for-33).

HE SAID WHAT?: "If you have to spend a day in jail, at least it's an off day so you don't miss a game. There were some pretty good athletes in there. So if they get out, we might be able to work a couple out." - GM Jim Bowden, who was arrested for DUI in Miami Beach, Florida, early Monday.

MEDICAL WATCH:

  • 1B/C Robert Fick (bone spurs in right elbow) opened the season on the disabled list but should return by the end of April.
  • SS Cristian Guzman (slight tear in right shoulder) has avoided surgery, but he remains on the disabled list and will need plenty of rehab to return to the big-league squad.
  • RHP Luis Ayala (sprained right elbow ligament) is out for the season after getting hurt in the World Baseball Classic.
  • RHP Ryan Drese (right elbow pain) is on the disabled list but won't need surgery after all.
  • RHP Brian Lawrence (torn right labrum and rotator cuff) is almost certainly out for the year.
  • RHP Pedro Astacio (strained forearm) began the season on the disabled list, and he has yet to begin a throwing program.
  • OF Jose Guillen (strained left oblique) is day-to-day.

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