Cordero comes back strong

Cordero comes back strong

WASHINGTON -- The Chief is back.

That's what opponents facing Nationals closer Chad Cordero have discovered in the past two weeks.

Since returning from bereavement leave on May 15, Cordero has pitched eight innings, giving up no runs and shutting down opponents with his dominating fastball.

"Before, I was thinking about my grandma," Cordero said. "But now, I'm just concentrating on doing what I have to do to get people out."

Cordero left on May 8 to be with his grandmother, Josie Cordero, who passed away shortly afterward. In the two weeks before leaving, the closer began to struggle on the mound, and allowed the Cubs to come back and win on May 6.

Since coming back, Cordero has returned to his signature pitch, a fastball that sneaks by hitters.

"He was using his slider way too much early in April," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "He's back to using it only here and there, and sticking with his fastball, which is his pitch."

That confidence was apparent to manager Manny Acta, who didn't hesitate to use Cordero on his first night back.

"From the first day he returned to work, I could see it on his face," Acta said. "His body language was totally different. He's been terrific."

Cordero left with an ERA of 4.70, but he has whittled that down to 3.09, including a remarkable 0.90 so far in May.

He credited work that he's done with St. Claire recently. In addition to cutting down on sliders, he's also worked on his pitching motion. Cordero was drifting to the third-base side when throwing, instead of moving entirely toward the plate. A retooled motion has meant more success in his recent outings.

"Now that I'm going straight at the plate, I've been able to throw a lot more strikes, and my fastball stays as accurate as it's supposed to be," Cordero said.

He picked up two saves on the team's road trip to Cincinnati and St. Louis, and made an additional appearance in Sunday's 7-2 victory over the Cardinals.

Ordinarily, Cordero only pitches in save situations, but with an off-day looming, he was given the extra work to stay fresh. The coaching staff will try to keep him from going three days without pitching. Pitching Cordero also provided an exciting end to a successful road swing.

"We wanted to finish the trip strong, so putting him out there was a no-brainer for me," Acta said. "Plus, he's one of the guys with less work in the bullpen, because the other guys have been out there more. I don't mind seeing him pitch every other day."

Despite the sluggish outings he had before leaving, Cordero was assured by Acta that the closer's job would be his when he returned. While in California, Cordero continued to follow the team, watching the games on television and preparing for his return.

With a bullpen that has been in heavy use this season, Cordero was needed righty away. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning against the Braves his first night back.

Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.