MissChatter: Best Laid Bullpen Plans

MissChatter: Best Laid Bullpen Plans
July 25, 2010, 1:40 pm
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Sunday, July 25, 2010 9:18 am

By Miss Chatter
CSNwashington.com

Hmm there went my initial story, sort of. You know what they say about the "best laid plans". Initially I was going to write about how painful it is for a player who has had a taste of the big leagues to be called up from AAA for one day and not give the best showing, knowing he'll get sent back down immediately after the game. Naturally, the ultimate goal is to make it to the big club and hopefully stick. Even getting that call for one day, players want to make a positive "blow 'em away" impression and hopefully return sooner rather than later, leaving the memory of their success in the minds of those who make the decisions.

Collin Balester and his mustache were sent to the minors out of spring training this season to adjust to a shift from a starting role to the bullpen. I'd love to see "Bally" stick - he's entertaining and fun and I like to root for the up and comers to ultimately show dominant performances and earn more MLB playing time. I could only imagine his excitement at the one day call-up intended to give the bullpen some relief the day before Ross Detwiler's innings-limited first MLB start after hip surgery, likely necessitating heavy bullpen use during today's final game against the Brewers. Balester's quick call up was intended to give the bullpen a day of relief, but things didn't exactly work out as planned.

Balester made an impression all right -- on Brewers' lead-off second baseman Rickie Weeks's batting helmet. After J.D. Martin was unexpectedly removed from the game in the third inning due to aggravating a back injury, Balester was called on to enter the game with one out. He induced a double play to end that inning, but then kicked off the bottom of the 4th by allowing a home run to Jim Edmonds. How funny - last night I exclaimed, "how old is he?!" during a face shot of Edmonds. "He must be at least 40!" I just looked it up and sure enough, he is 40. Despite seemingly going to a 3-2 count on every batter (I did not track pitches, this was observation by memory), Balester made it through the rest of the 4th inning without any more damage and two strikeouts. He began the bottom of the fifth with another bang, but this one was to the head of Weeks.

Catcher Pudge Rodriguez rushed to Weeks's side immediately. Weeks popped back up and assured trainers he was fine (whew!) despite repeated painful replays of the drilling to the head that sent him sprawling face down into the batter's box dirt. After nailing Weeks, Balester seemed to lose it a little. I wondered what goes through a pitcher's head after something like that? Something along the lines of, "Oh crap! Hope he's okay! This is not going to help me get back to the major leagues." I don't know. Balester made some questionable and poorly aimed pickoff throws to first and second trying to get Weeks, who remained in the game, while a chorus of boos rained down from the crowd each time. The whole heart-wrenching scene was painful to witness, particularly when you want to see a young player succeed.

Balester gave way to Doug Slaten two batters later, completing two innings and allowing only that home run to Edmonds. Brewers fans booed as he trudged to the dugout. I really felt bad for him, particularly thinking this was not the way he wanted to make a single appearance. Due to events over the last couple games, the best laid plans for the bullpen have needed some revising as well.

Balester's stay has been extended for the time being. The Nationals lost two starting pitchers to the 15 day disabled list in consecutive games (Luis Atilano and J.D. Martin), so Bally gets another opportunity to make a positive impression. Ross Detwiler starts today on short rest for the first time since having hip surgery during spring training. Rather than a reprieve for the bullpen, the Nationals used five bullpen pitchers last night - Balester, Slaten, Batista, Clippard and Storen. So bullpen management and use today will be something to watch given that the Nats only intend to let Detwiler pitch five innings. I would love to see Livo come on in relief, and that appears to be a possibility since it's his day to have a bullpen session anyway.

The starter and bullpen issues turned out rather fortuitous for Balester. Hopefully this extension gives him a chance to settle, forget yesterday's game, and put in a good showing, rather than getting sent back down as planned to stew over his brief appearance. Kind of like the old saying about falling off a horse - get right back on before fear and lack of confidence set.