WASHINGTON -- Though hardly the sole contributor to the Cardinals' 2-5 start to the season, a bullpen built to be the strength of this club continues to wheeze early.
A two-run game lapsed into a 14-6 blowout under the watch of the Cardinals' relievers in Monday's series opener against the Nationals. A seven-run eighth punctuated the ugliness on a night in which the club lost three leads and allowed 19 hits.
The sample size is tiny, yes, but the ERAs alongside the names of several Cardinals relievers are not. With another eight runs allowed in four innings on Monday, the bullpen's ERA ballooned to 8.86. Four veteran relievers -- Brett Cecil (15.00), Kevin Siegrist (19.29), Jonathan Broxton (16.88) and Seung Hwan Oh (13.50) -- have figures well north of that figure.
"We have a good 'pen. We just have to figure out how to get everybody feeling good about their role and define those roles," manager Mike Matheny said. "Those come by giving them opportunities and seeing how they handle it. It's still early, and it will get fixed."
Monday's problems started right away. Cecil, one of the team's marquee offseason signings, relieved Adam Wainwright with two on and no out in the fifth and allowed both runners to score. Of the four runners he's inherited this season, all have crossed home.
Cecil allowed a run of his own an inning later to push Washington's lead to two. That runner came home on a single off Matt Bowman, who has actually been the team's most reliable reliever to this point. His ERA through four appearances remains zero.
It all unraveled then in the eighth, with Siegrist surrendering four runs and Broxton another three. Both have now been scored upon in two of their three outings.
"I just think it's all about getting into a rhythm for us, especially for me," Siegrist said. "There's no excuse for what happened tonight. You have to finish innings. That's my responsibility. I just have to throw more. I just don't feel sharp right now."
That's not an uncommon assessment this early in April. Relievers are coming off scripted spring outings in which they weren't often tested or extended. Few pitched on back-to-back days in Grapefruit League play.
But rarely have first impressions been this bad. Since Matheny took over in 2012, his bullpens have posted a sub-four April ERA in four of five seasons. The exception was 2013, when the bullpen ended the first month with a 5.67 ERA.
This year's group has already served up six home runs and blown both save opportunities it has had.
It's an unexpected development for a bullpen deep in experience. The Cardinals anticipated having a surplus of late-inning options after adding Cecil to a mix. Now, they're simply grasping for stability.
"It's still early," said Trevor Rosenthal, whose scoreless inning in his return from the disabled list was a bright spot in the 'pen. "We know what we're capable of. We just have to continue to focus and work through and everything will be all right."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.