ISO a good re­liever. Price not a con­sid­er­a­tion.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Thomas Boswell

“Help wanted!”

No, that’s not strong enough.

“Bullpen as­sis­tance des­per­ately needed in Wash­ing­ton, pronto!”

That’s not quite the ticket ei­ther.

“Ab­so­lutely, pos­i­tively got to have a proven re­lief pitcher, ASAP. Will over­pay in trade. Con­tact Nats GM Mike Rizzo im­me­di­ately. (Psssst, don’t tell Ted.)” Per­fect. Some­times you have to lose a trade to pre­serve a sea­son. That’s where the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als are now. Make the Nats an of­fer— be­cause they prob­a­bly can’t refuse.

Tyler Clip­pard, come home! D.C. pines for you. Steve McCatty will shine your gog­gles.

Jonathan Papel­bon, Nats fans don’t re­ally think you’re a jerk. Just get on 95 South out of Philly, then take 295 un­til you hit the South Capitol Street exit.

Aroldis Chap­man ... okay, that’s prob­a­bly just dreaming.

Joaquin Benoit, you’re not a San Diego closer any­more. You’re old, but you keep get­ting peo­ple out. You would be wel­come. So would a half-dozen other re­liev­ers who are free agents af­ter this sea­son and prob­a­bly soon will be on the mar­ket.

Over the next sev­eral weeks, can the Nats find the deal they need to strengthen their in­jured, in­ex­pe­ri­enced and prob­a­bly in­ad­e­quate bullpen?

An­dif they find that trade part­ner — Billy Beane in Oak­land or maybe the chuck­le­head in Philadel­phia — will Rizzo, so ac­cus­tomed to proper praise for stel­lar or at least helped-both-clubs trades, be able to swallow hard and say, “Yes,” when he know she’s

prob­a­bly over­pay­ing? Tough prob­lem. Huge stakes.

The Nats, in a 4-11 slump af­ter a 21-6 streak, have been smacked by one in­jury af­ter an­other since the last week of May. Most of those prob­lems pre­sum­ably will pass if the team’s med­i­cal eval­u­a­tions are ac­cu­rate (stop snick­er­ing).

Doug Fis­ter, Stephen Stras­burg and Ryan Zim­mer­man are all due back from the dis­abled list within a cou­ple of weeks. Jayson Werth thinks he will re­turn be­fore Aug. 1. If the Nats get semi-healthy in the lame NL East, they should be in the play­offs.

But what will they do once they get there? Or even if they come down the Septem­ber stretch in a tight di­vi­sion race?

One of their prob­lems, how­ever, is not go­ing to heal with time. It’s big, struc­tural and scary. And it’s the kind that scut­tles a con­tender’s World Se­ries hopes if it isn’t fixed— prob­a­bly by the July 31 trade dead­line.

The Nats’ bullpen “bridge” to get to ex­cel­lent closer Drew Storen is built out of balsa wood. Right now, In­di­ana Jones, with a bull­whip, a grap­pling hook and a magic medal­lion, couldn’t swing across that gorge from the sixth in­ning to the ninth. When Manager Matt Wil­liams waves to the bullpen, he doesn’t know whether he’s go­ing to get lovely ze­roes or a bag full of scor­pi­ons and snakes.

Some­times Wil­liams wants the right-han­der, some­times the lefty. Too of­ten, when he hands the ball to a re­liever, the sphere looks like a grenade with the pin pulled out.

Since spring train­ing, every­body in base­ball has asked the Nats, “How are you go­ing to cover all those late innings of close games? Do you think your Six-Star Ro­ta­tion will work eight innings ev­ery night?” The Nats said they had lots of good arms and op­tions. Trans­la­tion: They’re still look­ing for an an­swer.

None have panned out yet. Free agent Casey Janssen, who missed seven weeks, had a daz­zling ré­sumé from 2011 un­til mid-2014 but de­pends on a be­low-90 fast­ball and needs pre­ci­sion that ri­vals laser surgery to suc­ceed. If he’s the in-house setup-man so­lu­tion, part of the prob­lem’s solved. If not, four-alarm blaze.

Last sea­son, Clip­pard, Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, Aaron Bar­rett, Craig Stam­men, Ross Detwiler, Ryan Mattheus and Xavier Ce­deno came in from the Nats’ bullpen 365 times. They all have since been traded, re­leased or sent to the DL. That’s not “turnover.” In some coun­tries, fewer peo­ple dis­ap­pear in a putsch.

This sea­son, the bullpen has been such a mess of in­juries and ar­son­ists that the Nats have used seven rookie pitch­ers— Matt Grace, Sammy So­lis, A. J. Cole, Tay­lor Jor­dan, Rafael Martin, Tay­lor Hill, Felipe Rivero— and a rookie out­fielder, Clint Robin­son, in re­lief. The kid pitch­ers have a 4.82 ERA out of the bullpen. (The out­fielder: 0.00.)

Nor­mally, Rizzo doesn’t mis­cal­cu­late, at least not by much. This time it sure looks like he did. You usu­ally fix that by ad­mit­ting the prob­lem, look­ing at your ar­eas of ex­cess in­ven­tory, then man­ning up to make an “I’m-over-a-bar­rel” trade.

Luck­ily, the Nats have enough ar­eas of or­ga­ni­za­tional strength, in­clud­ing promis­ing start­ing pitch­ers in the mi­nors, to get a deal done, in­clud­ing arms such as Cole, Rey­naldo Lopez, Joe Ross and Austin Voth. Mid­dle in­fielder Wilmer Difo looks like a can’tmiss big lea­guer.

The prob­lem is that, at least po­ten­tially, any one of them could turn out to be ex­tremely valu­able — and un­der six-or-more years of team con­trol. The re­liever you would get back prob­a­bly would be gone by 2016, although Chap­man (ev­ery team’s fan­tasy) isn’t a free agent un­til ’17.

Can the Nats stom­ach the idea that their bullpen need is so se­vere they must, to a de­gree, put so­lu­tion above price?

Also, the Nats have an­a­lyzed Janssen as a setup so­lu­tion and checked that box. They see Blake Treinen as a fix, not a 4.45 ERA an­noy­ance. In base­ball, pa­tience is usu­ally good: Re-eval­u­ate in haste, re­pent at leisure. The Nats hate to flip-flop on their base­ball judg­ments. But this might be the ex­cep­tion to the rule.

So far, the Nats have looked at dis­count fixes, such as a mi­nor trade for David Car­pen­ter, ex­cel­lent in 2013-14 but des­ig­nated for as­sign­ment by the Yan­kees. That’s fine. But the Nats need to go fish­ing with a big­ger boat.

What would a dream so­lu­tion look like?

Get a dom­i­nant post sea­son proven setup man who would fit into the Nats’ club­house. If he played for a team with a lousy record and had a rich $9.5 mil­lion con­tract in his free agent walk year, he cer­tainly would be on the mar­ket. In other words, the ul­ti­mate rent-a-re­liever. Yes, base­ball loves irony: That would be Clip­pard.

The Nats traded him away to get in­fielder Yunel Es­co­bar (.319), who’s pro­duc­ing. The A’s, 25-38, need to get hot fast or for­get the play­offs. As their closer, Clip­pard has a 3.20 ERA with nine saves. His strike­out-walk ra­tio (22-13) could be a dan­ger sign of age.

Many things have worked out well for the Nats this year de­spite their 32-30 start. Their “stars” have aligned— es­pe­cially Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann, Storen and, soon, An­thony Ren­don.

But this is also the age of su­per bullpens, such as those in Kansas City and St. Louis. If you con­sis­tently lose the sev­enth and eighth innings— and of­ten the sixth, too, as the Nats have all sea­son— it’s a bur­den that goes from oner­ous in June to fa­tal in Oc­to­ber.

The so­lu­tion doesn’t have to be Clip­pard, Papel­bon or any other par­tic­u­lar pitcher. But it has to be some­one. What’s on hand ei­ther isn’t good enough or isn’t proven enough to bank on deep in the play­offs.

Grit your teeth and fix it. Or wish that you had.

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