Things are changing in the Washington Nationals' bullpen. Drew Storen has closed out the last two games with Rafael Soriano sorting things out in bullpen sessions. There are new arms up with the expanded rosters. Matt Thornton, a waiver wire additiion has taken on a big role. And last night in the eighth inning, Nats' skipper Matt Williams actually pulled Tyler Clippard in the middle of an inning.
Clippard wasn't particularly happy about that...
Clippard on not facing Freeman: "The eighth inning is my inning. I was hot. I don’t think they have a problem with me feeling that way."— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) September 9, 2014
Clippard recorded two outs in the Braves' eighth but put two runners on.
Ryan Doumit doubled to right on a fly that Nats' right fielder Jayson Werth tracked down but couldn't catch and Braves' right fielder Jason Heyward walked with one down before Clippard struck Ramiro Pena out.
With Freddie Freeman due up with runners on first and second and two out, Williams went to the pen for Thornton and a lefty-vs-lefty matchup.
"Freddie has some pretty good success against Clippard," Williams explained after the game, "especially this year."
Freeman was 1 for 2 with a walk in 2014 and 5 for 14 with a double and a home run against Clippard in their respective careers and 1 for 1 vs Thornton in their only previous matchup.
"He sees [Clippard] well," Williams said. "We wanted to get Matt in there.
"Matt has faced him one other time, Freddie's got a couple of hits, but I wanted to give him a different look, so, he's got a lot of at bats against Clipp, not a lot against Matt, so we decided to go with the matchup."
Freeman singled to right on a 96 mph 2-0 fastball inside from Thornton to drive in the Braves' only run of the game.
Williams went to the pen again after that at bat, bringing Craig Stammen out to face Justin Upton, who popped up to Adam LaRoche in foul territory off first to strand two runners.
Atlanta's rally came a half-inning after the Nationals added to their 1-0 lead in the home-half of the seventh.
Wilson Ramos singled to start the inning, sending a first-pitch fastball from Braves' lefty Mike Minor back up the middle.
The Nats' catcher took third on a double to left by Asdrubal Cabrera in the next at bat, at which point Fredi Gonzalez went to his pen for right-hander David Hale.
Williams burned pinch hitter Scott Hairston after the pitching change, opting for Nate Schierholtz, but he left Wilson Ramos in to run. When Schierholtz grounded out to first, failing to bring the slow-footed catcher in from third, the Nationals' manager decided to bring pinch runner Jeff Kobernus on at third in place of Ramos.
"We have second and third nobody out and we're not going on a grounder there anyway," he explained in his post game interview.
"We're going to make the ball be through. We're making sure that it's deep enough to score [Ramos]. If not, then we're going to pinch run with one out in case a short fly ball, [Kobernus] has great speed, he can make it, so we wanted to make sure we get that run."
The Braves had Hale walk Denard Span to load the bases and set up a potential double play from Anthony Rendon.
"They decided to walk Denard and face Anthony," Williams said. "But if there's a short fly ball there we want to be able to score, so that's why we made the move."
Rendon grounded into a force at second, but Braves' second baseman Tommy La Stella bobbled the ball, slowing the process down enough that Rendon was able to beat the throw to first as Kobernus scored to make it 2-0 Nats after seven.
When the Nationals' still led 2-1 after eight innings, Williams turned to closer Drew Storen again after the 27-year-old righty saved his second game of the season in the series finale with Philadelphia on Sunday.
Storen struck out the side on 19 pitches with the announced crowd of 25,448 cheering and "Drewwww"-ing him on the whole way.
Williams was asked afterwards if the move back to the closer's role in the last two days had Storen turning things up a notch?
"Not necessarily," he responded. "His fastball velocity is still there where it has been all year. He threw a couple of really nice changeups. So that's something that's newer, as opposed to just fastball/slider. But he's coming in throwing strikes and doing well."
Storen locked down his third save of the season and the Nationals' 81st win.
So was the one-run victory over the Braves, who'd won four of seven games in the nation's capital before last night and nine of thirteen between the two teams this season of any particular significance for the first-year skipper and his first-place team?
"There's no significance other than we won this game," Williams said.
"We've got a tough customer tomorrow [Ervin Santana] against a team that plays really well here. So we'll concentrate on that and go no further. Try to win tomorrow's game and then after that we'll look forward to the next one."