Jonathan Papelbon set the Atlanta Braves down in order in a nine-pitch tenth inning in Monday's afternoon's season opener in Turner Field, earning the save in the Nationals' 4-3 win, but save no.2 of 2016 required a little more work from the 35-year-old closer.
Papelbon gave up back-to-back one-out singles by Adonis Garcia and Nick Markakis in the ninth last night, before Hector Olivera grounded into a force at second, putting runners on the corners with two out, but Braves' catcher A.J. Pierzynski went down swinging at a 2-2 fastball to end a 14-pitch frame, giving Papelbon his second save of the season and the 351st save of his career.
"It got a little hairy at the end there, but Pap came through, big time," Dusty Baker told reporters after the Nationals' second consecutive win.
Before Baker turned to Papelbon in the ninth, he got six strong innings from Stephen Strasburg, who struck out just four and managed to set the new franchise mark (2005-present) for career strikeouts.
Shawn Kelley threw just one pitch to Hector Olivera and got a fly to center for the first out of the seventh, then Baker got Felipe Rivero up to face left-handed hitters A.J. Pierzynski and Jace Peterson.
Braves' manager Fredi Gonzalez countered with right-handed pinch hitter Gordon Beckham, who K'd looking to end a nine-pitch inning for the Nationals' hard-throwing left-hander.
With the pitcher's spot, a left-hander and switch hitter due up in the eighth, Baker sent Rivero back out to the mound for another inning of work.
Rivero retired the side in order in a 14-pitch frame, giving him five outs total on 23 pitches.
His fastball averaged 95.3 mph and topped out at 97.8, according to BrooksBaseball.net, and Rivero mixed in his changeup (87.0-87.5) and slider (81.3-82.5) as well, throwing four of each.
It was a nice bounce-back appearance for Rivero, who loaded the bases with two out in his first appearance of the season on Monday in a wild, 25-pitch outing.
Baker was asked after last night's win about his thinking in sending Rivero back out for the eighth.
"He only had nine pitches, that's why we sent him back out there," Baker explained.
"And I told him, I said, we're not going to do that very often. You know what I mean? Because very rarely are you going to have only nine pitches in an inning. And then they had all those left-handers coming up there.
"They're left-handed strong over there. Their lineup is such where it was left-right-left-right-left-right-left-right and it makes you make a decision and you can go through your whole bullpen trying to match up.
"So you've got to let somebody match up against a right-hand hitter vs a left-hand pitcher or vice versa. That's how I try stack my lineup, to make the opposing manager think about who can face who, but I know Rivero is pretty good left or right, and it worked."
Over 48 ⅓ innings last season, Rivero held left-handers to a .198/.242/.244 line and right-handed hitters to a combined .198/.255/.344 line.
Baker is still getting to know his new team, but the veteran skipper, who oversaw the formative years of now-former Cincinnati Reds' closer Aroldis Chapman's career, seems to like the new left-hander with the high-90s heat he has at the back of his bullpen in D.C.