WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said before Saturday's game that he has yet to find a "good rotation in the bullpen."
"That usually takes a couple weeks going into the season, and it's a combination of what the starters give you and the workload each guy has coming out of the 'pen," Johnson said.
The bullpen's workload has been somewhat unbalanced in the early going. Closer Rafael Soriano had pitched six times entering play Saturday, including three straight appearances that left him unavailable on Friday. Tyler Clippard also had six appearances and rested Saturday after a rough 35-pitch outing on Friday.
On the other hand, left-handed long man Zach Duke had appeared only once, on April 5, before working a scoreless seventh Saturday. Johnson does not want to start using Duke, his only southpaw reliever, as a situational lefty.
"I haven't got a good system going," Johnson said. "It's a work in progress."
Meanwhile, fireballing right-hander Henry Rodriguez pitched Saturday for the first time in almost a week, walking two and striking out one in a scoreless eighth.
Johnson said prior to Saturday's outing that Rodriguez is "a little behind" some of the other relievers, coming off surgery to clean up a bone spur from his elbow, as well as forearm tightness that limited him early this spring.
What did the manager think of Saturday's outing?
"It's going to kind of be a work in progress," Johnson said. "From no winter ball to that surgery, but he threw the ball good [Saturday]."
Davey being careful with starting pitchers' workload
WASHINGTON -- Nationals starters finished Saturday with a 2.80 ERA, compared with a 6.06 mark for the bullpen, which has allowed six runs over the first two games of the series against the Braves.
But even though Davey Johnson has been conservative with his starters' workload thus far, he said he isn't in a rush to push them harder.
"They're going to go deeper as the season goes on, but by and large, I'm real pleased with what I've been getting out of the starters," Johnson said. "My only consideration is that guys in the 'pen, their command hasn't been as good as the starters. Last year, we really attacked hitters, and this year, we're throwing more pitches than normal."
In the first two turns through the rotation, only two hurlers hit 100 pitches, and those were two of the team's least-effective outings. Jordan Zimmermann had thrown 89 and 90 pitches while allowing three runs in 13 innings; Ross Detwiler had thrown 82 and 90 pitches while allowing two runs in 13 innings; Gio Gonzalez had thrown 91 and 99 pitches while allowing one run in 11 innings; and Stephen Strasburg left his season-opening start after throwing 80 pitches in seven scoreless innings.
Strasburg tossed 112 pitches Saturday, his second consecutive game of at least 112 pitches thrown.
"Early on in the season, most of them, the most pitches they've thrown coming out of spring is 80, and the stress on those 80s in spring isn't near as much as it is at the start of the year," Johnson said. "The effort goes up along with the pitch count, so you want to build that good base without overdoing it, and also have some guidelines if a guy has a positive outing. I don't want to put him in situation where it can turn into a negative outing."
Johnson sticking with regulars early in season
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals played their 11th game on Saturday afternoon against the Braves, and Tyler Moore had yet to make his first start of the season. He is not alone.
Entering play Saturday, manager Davey Johnson had used his bench sparingly, with the exception of alternating between catchers Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. The only other reserve to get a start is Chad Tracy, who played first base twice when Adam LaRoche was out with a minor back injury. Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina have yet to appear in the team's starting lineup.
"This year, earlier on, [Johnson's] been running out mostly the regular starters, so me and the bench guys, it's kind of tough for us to get a good little feel for stuff, but we just stay ready," said Moore, a 26-year-old first baseman and corner outfielder.
Moore has less experience in a bench role than some of the others. He played regularly throughout the Minor Leagues, hitting 31 home runs in both 2010 and '11. As a rookie last year, he started 35 of his 75 games, slugging .513 and smacking 10 homers, two as a pinch-hitter.
But in 2013, Moore is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts and has played a total of four innings in the field.
"It makes you appreciate being a starter a lot more, but at the same time, it's increased my knowledge for the game, too," Moore said. "I know what the manager's thinking a lot of times, and if I didn't have this opportunity, I probably wouldn't know that. So it's just another way to look at it, and I just try to stay positive and go out there and perform."
Moore leans on the veteran Tracy for advice, and also talks to Johnson about pinch-hitting and coming off the bench. He has learned to pay careful attention to pitch counts and who is warming up in the opposing bullpen, in an effort to gauge when he should be ready to grab a bat. He stays loose in the batting cage but tries not to wear himself out.
Eventually, an opportunity to start will come, but it wasn't Saturday, when Johnson went with his regular lineup following Washington's series-opening loss on Friday night.
"I have a lot of very young, strong-minded, strong-bodied players," Johnson said. "If a guy had a not really good day, I'm more apt to keep playing him rather than use a fresher guy off the bench. I don't want to send the wrong signal. Maybe if a guy had a really good game last night, I'd be more inclined to rest him. But right now, some guys, maybe I'm trying to get them going. I want them to have more reps than [have it be] spotty."
Andrew Simon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.