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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Who can save the Nationals?

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I know you're probably tired of reading about the closer situation in Washington, and I sure know a writer who's sick of talking about it, but every save is important in competitive mixed leagues. With that in mind, let's visit the worst team in the majors and have another bullpen audit.

Washington manager Manny Acta shook up his bullpen yet again on Tuesday, yanking closer Joel Hanrahan and set-up man Garrett Mock from their roles. That duo helped blow Monday night's game, giving up six runs in the eighth inning at Philadelphia; Hanrahan got the worst of it, walking a couple of batters on 10 pitches, then serving up a grand slam to Raul Ibanez. "I hope I don't wear out this word, but again, it was deflating," Acta said.

Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells, journeyman without a doubt, will get some time to show what they can do as Acta mixes and matches in the late innings. Don't dismiss Tavarez out of hand; he's been one of the few reliable options in this bullpen so far in 2009 (3.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 12 Ks in 8.2 IP). Joe Beimel also figures to be a prominent part of the mix when he comes back next week off a strained hip flexor. He doesn't have an impressive history of getting right-handed hitters out (that's the key for any reliever, getting out batters from the flip side), but his 7.1 solid innings before the injury probably bought him some cred with Acta.

Bottom line, I expect Tavarez will get the next opportunity that comes along, and in deeper leagues, there's something to be said for that. For all the mysticism tied to the ninth inning, we have seen slumdogs close before; consider the Todd Jones era, or what Ryan Franklin is doing right now in St. Louis. It's not about names, it's about numbers. As bad as the Nats might look on paper, they're still going to win 50-60 games, at least, somewhere. Someone is going to emerge as a value from this bullpen.

Would all of the NL batters who have trouble hitting Manuel Corpas please stand up? Corpas allowed the deciding run in Tuesday's loss to San Diego, making it the fifth time in eight appearances he's been scored on. Nothing cheap about this messy run; he's been rocked for 16 hits and seven runs over his last nine innings. I realize there are plenty of fleas to be had with Huston Street and Jason Grilli as well, but if you're in the bullpen-speculation business, here's a situation you want to monitor very closely.

The other shoe finally dropped in Houston Tuesday, with Jose Valverde (calf) hobbling to the disabled list. LaTroy Hawkins, the stand-in closer, should be owned in any self-respecting league.

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So much for that Melvin Mora rehab assignment; the Orioles decided he was ready to go Tuesday and he looked the part on the field, rapping out three hits and knocking in a couple of runs. Don't sleep on this Baltimore offense, the first five guys are going to hurt people, and I hear there's a pretty good catching prospect on the horizon.

The train wreck continues for Edwin Encarnacion, as an MRI revealed a chip fracture in his wrist (to go with shoulder pain and a .127 average). He's been slapped on the DL and there isn't a timetable for a return yet. Jerry Hairston Jr. has some deeper-league value if he can settle in as the regular third baseman (ignore what he's done in limited playing time this year), but it's also possible Dusty Baker will take a look at Adam Rosales, who was recalled from Triple-A.

I don't run the Yankees but I'd sure make room for Phil Hughes, who passed the eye test at Detroit (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K). Mark Melancon followed with a scoreless seventh inning and probably should stick in a middle-relief role. The underrated middle of the New York lineup did the offensive damage; Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera combined for eight hits and seven runs, doing most of the heavy work against Detroit's spotty middle relief (Ryan Perry had an off night, and everyone loves to hit against Nate Robertson and Brandon Lyon).

Tonight, it is an Injury Blog: It's looking more and more like Josh Hamilton (ribs) may need a trip to the disabled list. Hamilton has been given a medicine dose pack to treat the injury; the club will wait 48 hours for things to kick in, then re-evaluate Thursday. … Hanley Ramirez (hand) has a 50-50 chance to play Wednesday. … Joakim Soria (shoulder) was able to work off a mound Tuesday and might be back by the weekend. … Another start, another Cole Hamels tweak; a sore ankle knocked him out in the fifth against Washington. … We'd all like to see Chris Getz (finger) return soon, because it's no fun watching Brent Lillibridge make outs (0-for-5 Tuesday, .139 on the season). Getz took BP Tuesday and probably will be in the lineup Wednesday. … To the surprise of no one, Mark Ellis (calf) and Nomar Garciaparra couldn't make it out of April without getting hurt. Keep an eye on Eric Patterson, who might be recalled to replace Ellis; he's stolen nine bases in the minors this month. … Gil Meche struggled in his Tuesday start, then hit the showers with a sore back. … Jorge Posada (hamstring) remains day-to-day, though he's getting used as a pinch hitter. … Derek Lee (neck) should be able to go Wednesday, and the Cubs welcomed Milton Bradley back to the lineup Tuesday night. There's nothing new on Aramis Ramirez (calf) however; he did some running Tuesday but wasn't able to accelerate. … Cristian Guzman is ready to go and will lead off for the Nationals Wednesday.

Handshakes: Bobby Jenks labored a little bit (18 pitches, just 9 strikes) but nonetheless put the Mariners away for his fourth save. … Kerry Wood pitched out of trouble in the ninth against Boston, then grabbed a victory when his teammates pushed across a run against Javier Lopez.Trevor Hoffman picked up his first Milwaukee save, as Miller Park remained a house of horrors for the Pirates (17 straight losses). … Brian Fuentes allowed a solo homer to Adam Jones but that's no big deal when you've got a three-run lead. … Mike Gonzalez struck out the side against the Cardinals, including three straight called strikes (after three balls) against Albert Pujols.Matt Lindstrom seemed to have his demons conquered for at least one night, throwing strikes and putting the Mets away 1-2-3. … Frank Francisco needed just six pitches to finish off Oakland. He's yet to allow a run en route to six saves. … Joe Nathan doesn't blow a lot of saves, but it was a happy ending in Minnesota as the Twins knocked J.P. Howell around in the bottom of the ninth. … It's a charmed life for Heath Bell: eight saves, 0.00 ERA. … Jonathan Broxton didn't have his best command in the eighth inning (Hong-Chih Kuo has lost that gig) and ultimately cost Chad Billingsley a win, but there's nothing to worry about with Broxy. The Dodgers scored twice in the ninth to give Broxton a win; Will Ohman got the final three outs for a rogue save.

Programming Note: Dr. Andy Behrens is your Closing Time guide Wednesday night. I'll be on the blog earlier, doing some Shuffle Up and Deal ranks for baseball (positions TBD).

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Images via Associated Press

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