Gio Gonzalez went 6 1⁄3 innings on Tuesday night in San Francisco, then handed the ball to the bullpen, with Matt Albers (1 2⁄3 IP) and Koda Glover (1 IP) holding San Francisco’s Giants off the board in what ended up a 6-3 win for the Washington Nationals.
Albers ended his twenty-first inning of work this season with a 1.29 ERA, a 3.13 FIP, 1.71 BB/9, 9.00 K/9 and a .171/.232/.267 line against.
“He’s been good ever since Spring Training and good till this point,” Dusty Baker told reporters when asked about the reliever’s performance. “He’s had one or two hiccups along the way, that’s going to happen to anybody, but he’s thrown the ball good, he throws strikes, keeps the ball down, and throws up double plays when we need them.”
Glover earned his seventh save of the season, pitching for the fifth time in seven days and third time in four days, and though he did complete a scoreless frame, he wasn’t as sharp as he had been in his previous outings.
“This is the second day in a row, you know,” Baker said, “and so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow, and you know we’ve got one of our main guys Max [Scherzer] throwing and hopefully he’ll go deep in the game and we can score some runs and won’t need Koda and go into Oakland with him having two days off, but we’ll see how the game dictates what we do.”
Asked how he felt about the bullpen at that point, Baker was honest in his assessment both of his relief corps and the constant questions about what has been a weakness on an otherwise impressive team early this season, though things have been improving in the last few weeks.
Heading into last night’s game, the Nationals’ relief corps had posted a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings going back to May 21st with three holds, five saves, and a 4.00 K/BB ratio over that stretch.
“Things go in streaks,” Baker said. “I still feel very confident in my bullpen and quite honestly, I’m kind of tired of talking about it because everyone wants to go on a day-to-day thing and that’s not how you do, that’s why you play six months of the season, and we’ve played two months, we’ve still got two-thirds of the season left to go.
“You’re always sampling with your lineup,” he explained, “you’re sampling with your — when you go into the season without a bonafide closer, then you’re sort of experimenting and rounding things out until you get what you think works and you get to what you think is the best combination.”
Scherzer relieved any stress about who might close if Glover was unavailable with his 100-pitch, complete game win over the Giants in the series finale in AT&T Park.
Baker said there was no question about letting the right-hander close it out himself the way he was throwing.
It was a luxury to not even have to think about warming up his relievers.
“When you’ve got an ace like that, one of the elite pitchers like that,” he said, “who in the bullpen throws better than the guy that you have out there? That’s how you’ve got to think about it. In some cases you do, but in most cases when Max is on, you don’t, because who out there can deal the way he’s dealing. That was big for us tonight because we didn’t have Koda [Glover] tonight to close the game either, so boy that was masterful.”
So who would have gotten the nod if Scherzer did struggle to finish up the complete game?
The Nationals can’t rely on complete games each time out, however, and though the bullpen has enjoyed success in recent weeks, that should not stop Nationals’ General Manger Mike Rizzo and Co. in the front office from pursuing relief help.
Rizzo and Baker have expressed confidence in the core group of relievers they have assembled from the start this season, but they did pursue closers this winter.
They came up short in their pursuits, but there is still chatter that the Nationals are in the market for relief help.
Erick Fedde could potentially help if they can round him into a reliever. If Joe Blanton is healthy and can return to the form he showed in LA last season, he too could provide a boost and as Rizzo said earlier this season, though a number of relievers (Blake Treinen) have not pitched to the back of their baseball cards, or are still dealing with injuries (Sammy Solis), they expect that they’ll see improvement.
Fanrag’s Jon Heyman reported last month that the Nationals have, “... spoken internally about many possibilities, though, including Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome, San Francisco Giants closer Mark Melancon, Miami Marlins closer A.J. Ramos, and Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.”
San Diego Union-Tribune writer Dennis Lin suggested last week that the Nationals were one of the teams expressing interest in left-hander Brad Hand.
Glover may have shored up the back end of the bullpen, but the Nationals could still use reinforcements if they want to make the run everyone is expecting them to make.