When the bullpen phone rings in the middle or late innings, there's a reasonably good chance Doug Slaten will be asked to start warming up for a potential key game situation.
The towering Slaten might be called in to pitch to one batter or toss two innings. Whatever the case, it's up to Slaten to have the confidence that he can get a big out and keep the Washington Nationals in line for a victory.
"When the phone rings, I can see what I have to do," Slaten, a left-handed reliever and a one-time Glendale Community College athlete, said before a recent Washington contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. "There are a lot of different scenarios, so you always have to be ready.
"I might be called in to face a lefty batter or give the team a couple of innings. That's my role."
The 6-foot-5 Slaten, who was claimed on waivers by Washington in November after spending the first part of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, has made the grade of late for a Washington squad oozing with young talent. Slaten, 30, spent the first part of the season with the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs of the International League.
In retrospect, Slaten said he had something to prove after being released by Arizona. He's battled knee and arm problems for more than 10 years and has required several surgeries that temporarily derailed his ability to pitch to his capability.
Slaten found success at Syracuse, resulting in him being called up by the Nationals on May 9. He fired 17 scoreless innings in 11 appearances with the Chiefs and struck out 17 in 17 innings.
"After last season with Arizona, I went back to the drawing board," said Slaten, who had a 7.11 earned-run average in 11 appearances with the Diamondbacks last season. "I pretty much knew that I would be placed on waivers and I just had to keep working.
"I had some injuries, but then got back into shape. I went through some changes with my mechanics, like staying back and allowing my arm slot to improve. It was a day-by-day process for me. Then a few things started to click at Syracuse."
Slaten, who played for Glendale college for part of the 1999 campaign before making his major league debut in 2006 with Arizona, has flourished since being promoted by the Nationals. In 33 appearances, he's 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA. He's struck out 23 and walked eight in 26 innings.
Slaten, a Venice High graduate who played a role in Arizona reaching the National League Championship Series in 2007, wasn't about to fail with the Nationals, who are 49-63 through Sunday and are in last place in the tough National League East Division.
He's been counted on by Washington first-year Manager Jim Riggleman.
"He's done a good job for us," Riggleman said. "I want to be able to use him more, but right-handed batters have hit him a little better.
"He's struck out the left-handers and we are starting to trust him more against the right-handers. We've heard a lot of good comments from our middle infielders in that they see him throwing the ball very well."
Those comments are also echoed behind the plate, where the Nationals employ 14-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who signed as a free agent during the offseason, has caught his share of middle relievers since breaking into the big leagues in 1991 with the Texas Rangers.
"He's been getting ahead of the count and that's because he's attacking the strike zone right away," said Rodriguez, who recently became the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to hit 300 career home runs. "He's got four good pitches to work with and it's key to have that left-hander come out of the bullpen in certain situations.
"He makes left-handed batters feel uncomfortable."
On Saturday, Riggleman brought in Slaten to begin the bottom of the eighth inning to face left-handed batters Andre Ethier and James Loney with the score tied at 2. Making just seven pitches, Slaten struck out Ethier and got Loney to ground out to second before being relieved by Joel Peralta. The Dodgers went on to post a 3-2 victory in 10 innings.
He then struck out Ethier and Loney en route to notching a scoreless fifth in Washington's 8-3 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday.
Slaten, who pitched 20 innings with Glendale college under the guidance of Coach Denny Barrett before being shut down because of an arm injury and then transferring to L.A. Pierce College in 2000, would like nothing more than to successfully complete his future assignments in Washington.
"I hope that things will continue to go well for me," said Slaten, who is 5-6 with a 3.54 ERA in his major league career after being drafted in the 17th round by Arizona in 2000. "I know I can do the job.
"The Nationals have a lot of young talent and veterans who have been to the World Series."
The more the phone rings, the more chances Slaten will have to prove himself in any given situation.