A string of injuries has forced the Nationals to reshuffle their bullpen several times over the last month, but the day is coming when those injured relievers all make their return, leaving the organization facing more reshuffling dilemmas.
Closer Drew Storen was back at Nationals Park today to be checked on by team doctors and trainers and said his rehab from elbow surgery continues to progress well.
"Everything feels great," Storen said. "Every day I've taken a step forward."
Storen worked out at the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla., last week and continued his throwing program today at Nationals Park, throwing off flat ground for the second straight day for the first time since he had surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow in April.
The right-hander expects to start throwing off a mound in the "next couple weeks" and then should be able to begin a rehab assignment shortly after that. He continues to target the All-Star break for his return from the disabled list.
Brad Lidge, meanwhile, was back in Washington today after making his first rehab appearance last night for Class A Potomac. The outing didn't go all that well -- Lidge retired only one of four batters faced and threw only 10 of 22 pitches for strike -- but the veteran said his arm felt strong and he believes his command will continue to improve as he makes more appearances.
Lidge is scheduled to pitch for Potomac again Wednesday and Friday, at which point the Nationals will decide whether he's ready to come off the DL.
Ryan Mattheus also is moving closer to a return from the DL after missing the last two weeks with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The right-hander initially hoped he would miss only the minimum 15 days required for a DL stint, but the club would like him to take things slower. He was scheduled to throw his first bullpen session today.
Who loses their spot in the bullpen when those three pitchers are ready to come back? The Nationals could face some difficult decisions.
Their current relief corps is a bit out of whack, with four left-handers (Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler and Michael Gonzalez) and only three right-handers (Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez).
Gonzalez was promoted Sunday after making only one appearance at Class AAA Syracuse -- he had an "out" clause in his contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent if the Nationals didn't call him up by mid-June -- and has faith he'll perform well enough to merit a long-term stay.
"If I'm pitching well, I don't have to worry about anything else," the veteran lefty said. "I'm pretty sure that's how every one of these guys is taking it as well. That's [the front office's] headache to worry about, not really ours as ballplayers. I know if I'm out there and throwing the way I want to throw, I don't need to worry about it."
Rodriguez has struggled mightily -- his ERA over his last 14 games is 8.49, and he's put 19 men on base over his last 11 2/3 innings -- and is now only being used in low-pressure situations. He would seem a logical candidate for demotion, but he's out of options and would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.