With the Washington Nationals up 3-0 after seven and a half innings last night, Dusty Baker turned to Sean Doolittle in the bottom of the eighth with the Houston Astros set to send a switch hitter (Carlos Beltran) and two left-handed hitters (Brian McCann and Derek Fisher) to the plate, barring a move for a pinch hitter.
Doolittle gave up a leadoff double by Carlos Beltran, who lined an 0-1 fastball to left, and an RBI single by Brian McCann, who sent a 1-1 fastball through the left side, 3-1.
Uh-oh... Did Baker over-think this one?
Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch turned to right-handed pinch hitter Jake Marisnick, who hit a fly to the track in left field, where Howie Kendrick caught the first out of Houston’s eighth, and Doolittle dialed up a double play, getting George Springer to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 on a first-pitch fastball.
“We thought about it, and I liked the matchup,” Baker told reporters after the game.
“Wanted to turn Beltran around, and he’s not as good right-handed now as he is left-handed, and it just didn’t work, and then we also wanted — that was the inning of decision, as far as I was concerned, because then you had the catcher up next, McCann, who can reach the seats, and Doolittle hadn’t — I think that’s only his second hit or third hit this year from a left-hander, and it just didn’t work.”
It was the sixth hit a left-hander has collected off Doolittle, actually, after lefties were 0 for 23 against him while he was still with Oakland.
Doolittle finished the night with a .147 BAA vs lefties on the season (5 for 34), with all five hits in 12 at bats vs left-handed hitters since he was acquired from the A’s.
Brandon Kintzler, who’d worked the seventh and eighth innings since he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the non-waiver trade deadline last month, after saving a total of 28 games before the deal, got his first save opportunity for the Nationals in the ninth.
Baker talked recently about wanting to give the 33-year-old, sinker-balling righty a shot at 30 saves when Doolittle needed a night off, or the right opportunities arose, but tonight it was about playing the matchups. It didn’t work out.
Kintzler came on with a two-run lead and Alex Bregman, J.D. Davis and left-handed hitting outfielder Josh Reddick due up.
Bregman singled on a grounder through the left side on a 1-1 two-seamer, but Davis sent a high chopper back to the mound for out No. 1.
Reddick stepped in next and hit a 1-2 sinker back up the middle for an RBI single and Yuli Gurriel lined a game-tying double to left, over Howie Kendrick’s head to tie it up, 3-3.
Kintzler got Marwin Gonzalez swinging with a 1-2 slider for out No. 2, and went to a full count with Carlos Beltran before walking the Astros’ slugger.
Brian McCann came up with a chance to win it, and hit a chopper to first that jumped on Ryan Zimmerman, but made its way into his glove.
Matt Albers took the mound in the tenth inning, and retired the Astros in order in a 14-pitch frame, and after the Nats took the lead again on a sac fly to left field by Anthony Rendon, and added a run on an RBI double by Matt Wieters, 5-3, Sammy Solis gave up a leadoff homer by J.D. Davis on a 96 mph 2-2 fastball Davis hit out to right field, 5-4, and then retired the next three batters to earn the save, his first in the majors.
“You look at the matchups,” Baker said when asked about his thinking with the bullpen, “... and you look at things, and I called down and we talked to Doolittle, and said, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to put you in the eighth,’ and he says, ‘No problem.’
“And you know Kintzler had been in the ninth, and you know some things just don’t work. You can pencil them out, but the other team has some say about that.
“If we had to do it again, we thought that was the right move.”
So he would, and will consider mixing things up again at the back of the bullpen?
“I’m very open to it, because you go with matchups,” Baker said.
“There [are] no absolutes on anything in baseball, you can have the numbers, you can have this and that, but sometimes things go against the numbers, and you know, like I said, it just didn’t work, but fortunately enough Kintzler got out of it, Albers came in and did a great job and then Sammy got his first save, and so take two out of three from these guys here, because they’re tough, they got a good club, and they’re really especially tough here.”