Tavarez enjoying life in Nats' bullpen

Tavarez enjoying life in Nats' bullpen

When Mike Rizzo was named acting general manager of the Nationals in early March, one of the first things he noticed was that the bullpen was in rough shape. The exhibition season was just a few days old when he made that assessment.

Rizzo was not afraid to say that he didn't have trust in relievers such as right-hander Steven Shell and left-hander Wil Ledezma, both of whom were designated for assignment almost two weeks ago.

So one of the first moves Rizzo made in March was signing right-hander Julian Tavarez, 35, to a Minor League deal. It turned out to be a good one, as Tavarez has emerged as the best reliever on the Nationals. Entering Thursday's game against the Cardinals, Tavarez has a 2.79 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings.

"I'm working and staying positive. I try to keep my mind ready all the time and do my best out there," Tavarez said. "I'm happy because I'm wearing a Major League uniform. I'm enjoying my days in the Major Leagues. Why not? A lot of people are sitting at home. Playing Major League Baseball is something I like to do. This is a great game."

Tavarez has been so good that Washington decided to go with a bullpen-by-committee, with Tavarez and right-hander Kip Wells as the late-inning options.

On Wednesday, Tavarez earned his first save since May 28, 2006, when he pitched for the Red Sox. He declined to see himself as a permanent closer because he is confident that right-hander Joel Hanrahan will get his job back.

"I'm not going to put into my head that I'm going to be the closer for the year," Tavarez said. "Hanrahan is going to get his job back. He has real good stuff to close. He made the wrong pitch at the wrong time. I know he will be the closer."

Pitching matchup
WSH: RHP Daniel Cabrera (0-2, 4.42 ERA)
In his last start against the Mets, Cabrera retired the first two batters he faced. Then the problems started. After Carlos Beltran singled and Carlos Delgado walked, David Wright hit what looked like a routine fly ball to center fielder Elijah Dukes. But Dukes, who had his sunglasses on the top of his head, lost the ball in the sun as it dropped in for a two-base error, allowing two runs to score. By the time he left the game in the third, Cabrera threw 86 pitches, and the Mets had a 5-0 lead. Cabrera said he was not rattled by Dukes' error. He felt he should have been able to give the club a quality start.

STL: RHP Mitchell Boggs (1-0, 1.17 ERA)
Boggs earned this start by pitching well five days earlier. He showed against the Cubs just what he needs to be effective: keep his sinking fastball down in the strike zone and get chases with his breaking ball. Those things won't always both be there for him, but when they are, he's well-equipped to get Major League hitters out. He won't blow many people away, but he has good enough stuff to get outs.

The Nationals are hitting .270 with 22 home runs and 87 RBIs. ... Adam Dunn leads the Nationals in walks with 20. ... Catcher Jesus Flores leads the Nationals in strikeouts with 20.

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Up next
• Friday: Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann, 2-0, 2.38) vs. Cardinals (Todd Wellemeyer, 1-2, 6.14), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Nationals (Shairon Martis, 2-0, 6.20) vs. Cardinals (Joel Pineiro, 4-0, 3.76), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Nationals (John Lannan, 0-3, 4.61) vs. Cardinals (Kyle Lohse, 3-0, 1.97), 1:35 p.m. ET

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