WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' relievers are off to a slow start, allowing 20 runs in 21 2/3 innings entering Wednesday's action against the White Sox. Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen are the only pitchers in the bullpen with a 3.00 ERA or lower. After seven games last year, the relievers allowed just six runs in 20 1/3 innings.
The bullpen allowed six runs in Tuesday's series-opening win against the White Sox, with Tyler Clippard allowing a three-run home run to Paul Konerko, and closer Rafael Soriano allowing a two-run shot to Alex Rios.
But pitching coach Steve McCatty isn't worried about the bullpen and feels it will get its act together soon. All that matters to McCatty at this point is that the Nationals are winning. The team is 5-2 entering Wednesday's action and beat the White Sox, 8-7, on Tuesday, despite the bullpen's struggles.
"Yesterday was two mistakes, and we didn't hit our spots -- fastball in and a slider away," McCatty said. "Do I have any concerns? No. Could they do better? Sure, but it's still early. Clip didn't give up a run all spring, so something is going to happen. Sori has a little tweak in his leg, and that is not an excuse, but it was a pitch we knew you can't throw that kind of mistake -- breaking ball that spins over the plate. He left it in there.
"Everybody is looking at the first seven games that we are playing. Could we be sharper? Sure. Is there a reason to doubt it? No. There is going to be stretches during the season where everybody is going to have their moments where everything is clicking together. But fortunately, the offense has been good enough that we are still able to get the wins."
McCatty said he doesn't have any concerns about anyone in the bullpen, including Henry Rodriguez, who is coming off elbow problems. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed two runs and only recorded one out Friday against the Reds, but recovered to throw a quick scoreless inning two days later.
"Henry has done better. His arm is feeling fine," McCatty said. "With him, every once in a while, he has a tendency to overthrow. We know that. But the next time out [against the Reds] he threw nine pitches. So it's an ongoing thing with him. He is still a young kid and learning what he needs to do every time. Am I concerned about him? No. He has unbelievable stuff. He has to learn how to harness it."
Desmond delivers best game of young season
WASHINGTON -- Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond had his best game of the season Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, two doubles and a triple in a 5-2 victory against the White Sox. He saw his batting average climb from .222 from to .290.
Desmond said his success at the plate was a result of right-hander Jordan Zimmermann pitching quickly in his seven innings on the mound.
"It's starts with Jordan and he was working quickly, getting quick outs, getting us back in the dugout," Desmond said. "The other guys around here were hitting, too. It wasn't like I was the only one. Hitting the barrel is contagious."
Desmond also admired the work of left fielder Bryce Harper, who went 2-for-4, including his fourth home run of the season.
"He plays with tremendous energy," Desmond said. "He is definitely an electric ballplayer. Having him in D.C. is going to be great for the city. He is definitely entertaining, that's for sure."
Strasburg impresses old friend Peavy
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg has known White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy since Strasburg played for San Diego State University and Peavy played for the Padres.
Peavy said Wednesday he admired how Strasburg has handled the hype and the innings limit that curtailed the right-hander's season last year.
"I couldn't be prouder with the way he has handled his career, handled all the hype around him and has remained focused on the game of baseball. He is making himself better," Peavy said. "Stephen has a bright, bright future, as we all know. I'm a huge fan. It has been fun for me to watch."
Strasburg threw only 158 1/3 innings last year, when the Nationals ended his season early because of the Tommy John surgery he had in 2010. The leash will come off this year, and Peavy believes the sky is the limit for Strasburg.
"His preparation, his work ethic is key. I think we all know what kind of competitor he is and what he wants," Peavy said. "I can't see why he can't put together 200 innings just like everybody else. He is young, he is strong. His arm is good and intact as it could possibly be at this point in time. The sky is the limit. Washington has a prize along with a few other ones, too. That [Ross] Detwiler kid. the [Jordan] Zimmermann kid, obviously Gio [Gonzalez] -- they have some impressive arms."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.