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."
Harper sits out Saturday's victory over Padres
WASHINGTON -- Outfielder Bryce Harper sat out Saturday's 4-0 win over San Diego, one day after jamming his left thumb sliding into third base after a triple.
While X-rays were negative, Nationals manager Matt Williams said there was some swelling and that Harper's hand remained sore. Harper was scheduled to see a hand specialist prior to Saturday's game against the Padres and afterward underwent an MRI, which Williams labeled as "pretty standard."
"We're continuing to work on it," Williams said.
Williams was fairly confident that Harper, who has a .289/.352/.422 slash line with one home run and nine RBIs in 22 games, would not miss an extended period of time with the injury.
"The early tests are pretty good," Williams said. "We just want to make sure we knock it out."
With the Nationals looking at an off-day on Monday, Williams added that Harper might not see action on Sunday, as well.
"I would imagine so," Williams said when asked if Harper would rest on Sunday. "[We want to] make sure that [his thumb is] good."
Jordan looking for bounce-back effort
WASHINGTON -- It's been a rough April for Taylor Jordan. But Sunday's start against San Diego offers an opportunity for the young pitcher to produce in a critical situation.
Jordan is 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA in his four starts this season, primarily due to putting himself into a hole early. The first inning has been a nightmare for Jordan, as he has an ERA of 18.00 in the opening frame. He has allowed the opposition to hit .462 against him in the first.
With Doug Fister on the same schedule as Jordan during his rehab starts -- Fister will pitch on Sunday for Class A Potomac -- Jordan is likely the odd man out when Fister returns. With the Nationals looking at three off-days over the next 11 days, a poor start on Sunday could give Washington the opportunity to skip one of Jordan's next outings. But Nationals manager Matt Williams was noncommittal about that option.
"The way it's set, right now, barring some kind of change -- and I can't tell you what would change, if anything -- but everybody will go and then get an extra day," Williams said. "That's the plan."
• Gio Gonzalez, who left Wednesday's start with tightness in his left shoulder, has been cleared to make his next start. He threw on Thursday and felt no discomfort, and also was in good shape after taking batting practice.
• During the Nationals' infield work on Saturday, injured catcher Wilson Ramos (hand) practiced receiving pitches and throwing down to second and third base. In addition, utility man Zach Walters practiced catching fly balls in left field and throwing to second base.
Elliott Smith is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.