I was mildly surprised to see the news wire report today before the Nats-Yanks series finale; the Nats have designated Brad Lidge for assignment. Not because Lidge didn’t “earn” this release; his numbers on the season are abysmal for a mid-to-late innings reliever (9 1/3 IP, 12 hits and ELEVEN walks for a ridiculous WHIP of 2.46. And not because Lidge was singularly involved with both of the Yankess losses this weekend (he allowed Gio Gonzalez‘s inherited runner to score before allowing another three runs in on friday night, then wasting six shutout innings from his fellow bullpen members by giving up 3 hits and a walk in the 14th inning yesterday).
I say I’m mildly surprised because I honestly thought the next guy to get the axe out of our suddenly struggling bullpen would be the curiously called-up Mike Gonzalez, who may have decent ancillary numbers so far (no runs in 4 IP over 6 games) but he’s allowed a Doug Slaten-esque 4 of 9 inherited runners to score, including 2 in friday night’s bullpen implosion as well. Gonzalez seemed to be a two week solution, signed off waivers only to provide cover until we got a couple of arms back off of the DL. I certainly didn’t expect him to be seeing as much game action as he has lately.
The Nats are starting to see the real effects of losing two of their three best arms (Storen and Rodriguez); guys who should be the 5th or 6th guys out of the pen are now the 1st and 2nd guys out of the pen. Clippard, who was doing just fine as the best 8th inning guy in baseball (he did lead the majors in Holds in 2011) now is, well not “wasted” as the closer but certainly not doing what he does best; being the guy who cleans up and fixes the highest leverage situations.
More to the point the team faces now; the loss of Storen and Rodriguez, as well as the trickle-down effects of stashing Ross Detwiler in the bullpen so the (so far) inferior Chien-Ming Wang can continue to put up sub-replacement player numbers out of the #5 starter role, combined with the presence of THREE swing-men/ex-starters (Gorzelanny and Stammen to go along with Detwiler) means that suddenly our bullpen has found itself ill-prepared to face the challenges that it was meant to face. We really only had four true back-of-the-bullpen relievers who could close out games.
The team needs Ryan Mattheus back, now (Editor’s Note; about 2 minutes after I penned this the team announced that Mattheus was, indeed, back). I know plantar fasciitis is painful but, hey, this is the majors. Get a cortisone shot and get back out there. We also need to think about giving some minor league arms a chance. Or making a trade for some bullpen help. Maybe we can flip one of our swing-men for a back of the bullpen arm from a team that needs starter help (Colorado anyone?)
The team’s still in first place, a third of the way through the season. With no reason to think we can’t maintain the lead now that our big hitters are back and getting healthier. We need to shore up this problem so it doesn’t derail the progress this team has made.