Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Clippard has helped pick up the slack since Matt Capps' trade.
Yesterday, we got a glimpse of why Ramos was so highly coveted by GMs talking trades with the Twins. He went 0-for-4 against the Braves, but he had a couple of nice at-bats in which he showed good plate discipline. More importantly, he called a solid game and made a really nice play on a sacrifice bunt attempt. If Ramos does develop into this organization's long-term answer at catcher, the trade will have well been worth it.
Let's not forget the second point, though. The Nats' bullpen, while certainly weaker without Capps, has done a pretty good job holding its own without its closer of four months. During yesterday's 6-2 win at Turner Field, that unit tossed 3 2/3 hitless innings to preserve John Lannan's win. Joel Peralta got two outs on one pitch in the sixth. Tyler Clippard struck out the side in the seventh. Sean Burnett got out of a jam in the eighth (albeit on a smoked line drive right at Michael Morse). And Drew Storen finished things off with a 1-2-3 ninth.
This is pretty much what the Nationals' relief corps has been doing for three weeks now. Check out these pitchers' numbers since July 31 (the day after the Capps trade)...
Storen: 8 g, 1-0, 2.16 ERA, 2 sv, 8.1 ip, 5 h, 2 er
Burnett: 10 g, 0-2 ERA, 2.70, 2 sv, 10 ip, 4 h, 3 er
Clippard: 8 g, 1-0, 2.35 ERA, 0 sv, 7.2 ip, 5 h, 2 er
Slaten: 8 g, 0-0, 1.08 ERA, 0 sv, 8.1 ip, 5 h, 1 er
Pretty good numbers from four-sevenths of the Nats' bullpen. As for the other three, Peralta (4.35 ERA since July 31) has tailed off some but has still gotten some big outs and overall has a 2.70 ERA; Miguel Batista continues to do what he's supposed to do; and Craig Stammen has 11 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings since moving to the bullpen.
Everyone's roles are a little less-defined now than they were earlier in the season (when you knew Burnett and/or Storen would pitch the seventh, Clippard the eighth and Capps the ninth). Now, Storen has the ninth inning ... unless the opposition has a bunch of left-handed hitters, in which case Burnett gets the ball. Clippard and Peralta have been used anywhere from the sixth through the eighth innings. Slaten comes in to face a lefty here or there.
But the current bullpen members don't mind the relative uncertainty of their new roles. If anything, they think it's helped keep them sharp.
"There's a little bit less structure, but as relievers in the big leagues, you have to be prepared the whole game for whatever happens," Clippard said last week. "So I think it's helped us in that sense. We're ready at all times and bearing down. We don't get too lackadaisical down there. We're always focused on what's going on, which is huge. Everybody seems to be feeding off each other down there."
Is there enough in this relief corps to head into 2011 feeling confident? Perhaps, though one more reliable veteran would be nice. And we still haven't seen if Storen can handle closing duties over the long haul (though all evidence to date suggests he can).
Point is, a midseason trade of an All-Star closer that might have derailed many clubs hasn't significantly damaged the Nationals. To date, the rest of this bullpen has risen to the challenge.