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Nationals' manager Matt Williams' Game 4 bullpen usage: No Tyler Clippard? No Stephen Strasburg?

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Should Matt Williams have turned to Tyler Clippard instead of Aaron Barrett in the seventh? Should he have used Stephen Strasburg? The Nationals' first-year skipper is being picked apart in the press for his decisions in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Thearon W. Henderson

The score was tied up at 1-1 after six innings. Though there were relievers available, in a win-or-go-home Game 4, Davey Johnson turned to right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in the seventh inning, bringing the starter out of the pen three days after a disappointing start against the St. Louis Cardinals on the road in Busch Stadium.

Before the fourth game of the 2012 NLDS, Johnson told reporters that Zimmermann was available if needed with the season on the line and the Cards up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.

"Zimmermann didn't throw but 60‑something pitches in his last outing, so this will be his throw day and he will be available out of the pen," Johnson said.

Johnson turned to the right-hander in the seventh after six solid innings by left-hander Ross Detwiler and an amped up Zimmermann dominated the Cardinals, striking out the side on 12 pitches with dominant stuff and stunning everyone who watched, including his manager.

"I had him warming up earlier. I had him warming up in the inning before with [Craig] Stammen to make sure that he wasn't rushed..." -Davey Johnson on using Jordan Zimmermann in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS

"I had him warming up earlier," Johnson said. "I had him warming up in the inning before with [Craig] Stammen to make sure that he wasn't rushed, and that if I had to make a change, I wasn't going to use Jordan. I wanted him to start the inning clean.

"He came in, and I mean, he was hyped. That's the hardest I've seen him throw all year. I mean, his slider was like 91, and he just‑‑ some guys in our club said, 'That's our next closer.' I said, 'no way.'"

"I had kind of a beat‑up bullpen," Johnson explained, "so I really needed that seventh inning to do the job, and he did a heck of a job."

Zimmermann's outing bridged the gap to the Nats' "A-pen" and Tyler Clippard in the eighth and Drew Storen in the top of the ninth kept it tied so that Jayson Werth could win it on the walk-off home run that shook the nation's capital.

The Nationals lost Game 5 in devastating fashion, of course, with Johnson's bullpen management in the end questioned for weeks and months afterwards.

The current Nationals' manager Matt Williams is receiving the same sort of scrutiny now, after the first-year skipper and the Nats dropped Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS to San Francisco on Tuesday.

Bryce Harper's seventh inning home run tied Game 4 in AT&T Park up at 2-2, but rather than bring starter Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Clippard or even Craig Stammen out of the pen to take on the Giants' 1-2-3 hitters, Williams turned first to left-hander Matt Thornton with left-handed hitters Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik due up.

When Joe Panik singled to left with one down, Williams stuck with Thornton against Buster Posey, who put up a .304/.357/.518 against left-handed pitchers this season.

When Posey singled to put two on with one out, Williams turned to Aaron Barrett rather than Tyler Clippard, or Craig Stammen... or even Stephen Strasburg, who started Game 1 and was available out of the pen according to what the Nats' manager said before the start of the game.

"It would be extreme emergency for Jordan [Zimmermann], but Stephen's available and the rest of the guys certainly are available." -Matt Williams on who might be available out of the pen in Game 4

After he said that "all hands are on deck," Williams qualified in his pregame press conference that, "... it would be extreme emergency for Jordan [Zimmermann], but Stephen's available and the rest of the guys certainly are available."

"If for some reason something goes haywire, Gio [Gonzalez] gets hit with a ball or something‑‑ you never know what can happen‑‑ then Stephen could be available for that," Williams explained. "He could be available late. He could be available if we get into a situation like we got into Game 2 where we play extra innings.

"The game will present how we go and what we do. But he's available for all of those, yes."

With the season on the line, Williams said, everyone was available.

"It's do‑or‑die tonight," he told reporters. "If we don't win this game, then we go home. We don't get to play anymore.

"So it has something to do with it, but we don't know what the game is going to present. We don't know what kind of situation we're going to be in. And if Stephen is the right guy for that, then he's the right guy for that. We have to make sure that we account for him getting ready.

"I think the fact that guys pitch out of the bullpen, all it does for them is give them a sense of how quickly they can get ready to get in the game. If you've never done it, you really don't know. But we don't know how things are going to go.

"So he's ready and he's available, and if we have to go that direction, then we can. And we'll just make sure that he's allowed to get ready and be fully hot and ready to go if, in fact, he gets in the game."

Williams didn't turn to Strasburg, of course, he went with Thornton, then Barrett, who walked Joe Panik to load the bases, then spiked a 2-1 fastball to Pablo Sandoval that bounced by catcher Wilson Ramos and allowed the eventual winning run to score.

After Barrett recorded the second out of the inning in astonishing fashion on an intentional ball to Sandoval that he threw over the catcher only to have Wilson Ramos recover the ball and throw home in time to Posey at the plate, Williams turned to Rafael Soriano, who got the third out of the seventh and came back for a scoreless eighth.

The Nationals were unable to rally, however, and they eventually lost, 3-2, and were eliminated from postseason contention.

"Those are our seventh inning guys.That's how we set this up. We had two lefties at the top of the inning, and if we got to the righties, we were going to go with Barrett." -Matt Williams on his seventh inning decisions in Game 4 of the NLDS

Williams was asked first why he went with Thornton and Barrett as opposed to Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen in the seventh?

"Because those are our seventh inning guys," Williams said. "That's how we set this up. We had two lefties at the top of the inning, and if we got to the righties, we were going to go with Barrett. That's what he's done for us all year long.

"We are certainly not going to use our closer in the seventh inning. So that's why we went with it."

You're not going to use your closer, but what about Strasburg?

"Did you have a scenario in mind when you were going to Stephen?" a reporter asked.

"It's irrelevant," Williams said. "Did I have a scenario in mind when we were going to Stephen? No, it's irrelevant. Doesn't matter. He didn't pitch."

"Did you think about going to him when you went to Roark? Or was that just Roark's‑‑"

"No, that's Tanner," Williams said. "Stephen, as I told you in pregame, it's emergency‑only for Stephen tonight. We get into late innings, then he's our guy. He's only on three days' rest. Tanner is rested and ready."

Did he think he stayed with Barrett, a rookie in his second postseason appearance, a little too long?

"I don't think so," he said. "Aaron's been doing that job for us all year long. He's a strikeout guy. He's got the ability to strike that guy out. Unfortunately it was a wild pitch.

"So, you know, that happens. But he's been our guy that we've gone to in the middle of orders with every team that we've played all year long to get a big strikeout or get a big out."

The reviews of his bullpen management have not been kind.

"How," New York Post writer Joel Sherman wondered, "could Nationals skipper Matt Williams face the most critical moments of his season and use, what, his fourth- and fifth-best options in Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Game 4?"

Fangraphs.com's Dave Cameron, in an article for FOXSports.com entitled, "Matt Williams and how not to run a bullpen", wondered how the manager let the season end without ever using Strasburg, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen, writing that the Nats, whose offense, "didn't do Williams any favors in this series," had their season end, "...because Williams was unwilling to use his best pitchers in a tie game."

Could Williams, who took Gio Gonzalez out after just four innings when he saw an opportunity to get some runs on the board in the fifth, have started warming Strasburg up so he was ready if needed?

Should he have warmed Tyler Clippard up in case he was needed in the seventh when he turned to Barrett and then Soriano?

Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo said in an interview with ABC7's Horace Holmes after many questioned Williams' decision to pull Zimmermann with two down in the ninth in Game 2, only to have Drew Storen give up the tying run in what ended up an 18-inning loss, that there was no time for second-guesing.

"Second-guessing, that’s for television," Rizzo said. "We live in the baseball world and there’s no second-guessing in this clubhouse."

Will there be second-guessing in the front office and the manager's office this winter?