Nats unable to solve ninth-inning woes

Nats can't solve ninth-inning woes

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Manny Acta was angry after Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Marlins, and he had a good reason to lose his cool. His bullpen can't seem to preserve a lead, and Sunday was no different.

The Nationals entered the ninth inning with a 4-3 lead, but right-hander Saul Rivera couldn't get the job done. John Baker tied the score at 4 with an RBI double. Four batters later, Cody Ross broke the game open with a three-run double.

"I think it's embarrassing," Acta said. "It's unacceptable. I think our fans have every right to be mad like we are right now, and it's not going to be tolerated. We are going to have a brand new bullpen tomorrow. And if those guys that come in don't get it done, we are going to continue to get guys out of here, because I think all of us deserve better."

The Nationals didn't waste time making changes to the bullpen. Following the game, the Nationals optioned Rivera to Triple-A Syracuse and designated relievers Steven Shell and lefty Wil Ledezma for assignment. All of them were hit hard this season. On Monday, the club plans on calling up right-handers Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Bergmann, Garrett Mock and Kip Wells from Syracuse.

The Nationals are grooming Mock as the future closer, and there is a possibility that he could be named to that role once he arrives in Washington on Monday. The incumbent, Joel Hanrahan, blew two straight games on Friday and Saturday against Florida.

Entering Monday's action, the Nationals' bullpen has a 6.48 ERA.

"It's unacceptable to perform the way the bullpen has performed," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "It shows the incredible strain it has put on the whole ballclub. Like I said since Spring Training, it's all about doing the job -- executing pitches and making it work. It was clear the people we had in there were not doing the job."

The bullpen problems on Sunday started in the top of the sixth inning. With runners on first and second and no outs, the Nationals had a 3-1 lead when Acta decided to take right-hander Daniel Cabrera out of the game in favor of Shell.

After Dan Uggla flew out to left field, Jeremy Hermida walked to load the bases. Ross followed and singled to left to drive in Hanley Ramirez.

In the top of the eighth inning, left-hander Michael Hinckley was on the mound when Ross homered over the left-field wall to tie the score at 3.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, with runners on first and third, one out and right-hander Leo Nunez on the mound, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit what looked like a double-play ball to third baseman Emilio Bonifacio, who was able to get the force at second, but Uggla made a throwing error to first, which allowed Anderson Hernandez to score.

But it was the Nationals' bullpen that made Acta upset after the game. Told that he is usually stoic and positive after losses, Acta said, "I'm still positive. I can control my attitude and my effort every single day.

"But I don't think our fans and the rest of the team deserves this, because there are plenty of guys in Triple-A and we are not going to stop. We are going to make it better somehow, some way. We are not going to [have the same guys] going down every single day. I'm not angry. I'm getting my point across."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.