Williams learning how to juggle bullpen

Williams learning how to juggle bullpen

WASHINGTON -- One of the toughest challenges for a rookie manager, especially one who was a position player, is figuring out the right way to deploy his bullpen. So far, Nationals manager Matt Williams has done a good job, although he's probably gone to the 'pen more than he would have liked.

The Nationals had a 2.09 bullpen ERA heading into Saturday, second only to the Padres in the Majors. But the relief corps has been busy -- with 72 appearances and 81 2/3 innings pitched, the fourth-highest total in MLB.

"The guys that have been around here a lot have told me this is unusual," Williams said. "We certainly have good starting pitching, and we rely on them a lot to get us deeper into games. There's been some games where it hasn't happened, and so that has been a tough part."

Craig Stammen has tossed 14 1/3 innings over eight appearances and Jerry Blevins has thrown 11 1/3 innings in 13 trips to the hill. Williams doesn't want to tax his relievers, but it has been a function of Washington's starters averaging just 5 2/3 innings in their starts.

"We've had a few times where our [long reliever] has been in there in the fourth inning -- and that hurts your bullpen for not only that day and the next day, but days after that," Williams said. "That's been a challenge, but it's not the norm. You just have to fight through those days -- or those weeks -- and get through it and get back on track. I want to use them a certain way, but that hasn't been the case."

Elliott Smith is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.