Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Jesus Flores are all dealing with various ailments, but the Nats' eight-man bullpen has limited the bench to just four players. But given the recent strain placed on some of his relievers -- most notably, Craig Stammen had an unusually long 3 1/3-inning outing on Thursday and Sean Burnett began the day with 44 appearances -- Johnson doesn't want to shorten his bullpen in favor of adding a bat on the bench. The Nationals also just completed a stretch of three games in two days against the Braves, who now only trail by 3 1/2 games in the National League East.
"The need, still, is having the arms," Johnson said. "Even with eight of them out there, we really only had seven because I used Stammen for [3 1/3 innings on Thursday] and  pitches. ... Thirty-six hours, guys have been out there a lot."
Johnson also pointed out the need to get two of his most valuable relievers, hard-throwing right-hander Henry Rodriguez and the recently activated Drew Storen, on track. Since being reinstated from the disabled list on July 3, Rodriguez has made seven appearances, allowing two runs on three hits in five innings. In the first game of Saturday's day-night doubleheader with the Braves, Rodriguez entered in the eighth inning and allowed a single, a walk, a run-scoring wild pitch and three stolen bases without recording an out. Johnson eventually pulled him with a 2-1 count to Jason Heyward.
Storen, meanwhile, has appeared in only two games since being activated from the DL on Thursday. In those two games, the 24-year-old right-hander threw only a combined 17 pitches. Storen also hasn't pitched since Friday.
"I don't know where he's at, when he'll be able to pick up where he left off last year," Johnson said. "He threw nine pitches one day, eight pitchers the next. He's a closer, but maybe the work he's doing beforehand, he's still a little weak."
Though the concerns with Rodriguez and Storen need to be addressed, the most pressing situation might be reducing Burnett's workload. As the Nats' primary eighth-inning pitcher, Burnett has thrown 36 2/3 innings with a 2.21 ERA, 40 strikeouts and nine walks. After throwing 31 pitches in the eighth inning on Friday, Burnett threw another 20 in the second game on Saturday.
"I need to get it squared away where I'm not going to him all the time," Johnson said. "He wants to, he's going to say, 'I'm fine.' I like that sinker ... but I've got to get some other guys healthy and throwing the ball."