By Mike Steffanos
Game 119: Mets 4 - Nationals 3
On a day when he didn't have his best stuff, Johan Santana handed a couple of leads back to the Nationals. For a change, though, the lead that was handed to the bullpen was preserved, and Santana was finally able to notch his tenth win of the season.
This bullpen was already a significant contributing factor in Willie Randolph's demise. Jerry Manuel apparently would like to avoid the same fate, and has served notice that he is prepared to pursue other options if this crew continues to give up leads. I count myself among those who see Manuel's words as much of a motivational tool as anything else, and for at least a night it was effective.
Manuel has voiced his frustrations with the timidity of the relievers at times -- nibbling at the corners and falling behind in the count all too often. I've always felt that I could accept pitchers, particularly late inning relievers, getting beat on hits while pitching aggressively. I can't stand, however, to see games lost on walks or hits caused by falling behind in the count regularly. Apparently Jerry feels the same way. Maybe this bullpen will at last get the message. At least last night Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano seemed to.
It's unlikely that any reliever will show up riding a white horse to save the day this season. Wagner's return should help, but they'll need to get what they can out of the middle relief core of Heilman, Sanchez, Smith, Feliciano and Schoeneweis. If nothing else, they have to be more aggressive.
If I was the manager one change I might consider, once Wagner returns, is moving Heilman to the long relief spot. He could stabilize that area and start stretching out for a return to starting next season -- whether here or somewhere else. He just seems lost as a late inning guy now.