Jefry Rodriguez saved the Washington Nationals’ bullpen from a potential disaster today in SunTrust Park, coming on to make his MLB debut two batters into the game when Jeremy Hellickson suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury covering first on a ground ball to the right side.
Rodriguez went 4 2⁄3 innings on 63 pitches as the Nationals jumped out to a 2-1 lead, saving the Nats’ relief corps from a long afternoon in Atlanta, but the Braves rallied to tie things up in the bottom of the seventh on a Dansby Swanson home run off Shawn Kelley.
It was still tied in the ninth when Tanner Roark took over on the mound and gave up a one-out double by Swanson and a walk-off home run by Charlie Culberson on an 0-1 fastball, 4-2 final.
Hellboy vs the Braves: In five May starts, Jeremy Hellickson gave up just four earned runs in 27 2⁄3 IP (1.30 ERA) with two walks, 25 Ks, and a .200/.232/.316 line against. He wrapped his solid month on the mound up with a five-inning start against the Orioles last week in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, giving up six hits and two earned runs in what ended up a 3-2 win.
Hellickson had allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his first eight starts for the Nationals this season before this afternoon’s outing.
He took the mound today hoping to help the Nats earn a series split after they dropped the first two of four in SunTrust Park and beat the Braves in extras on Saturday.
Two batters into the game, however, Hellickson suffered what looked like a hamstring injury reaching for a high toss to the bag as he covered first on a grounder to the right side.
Hellickson grabbed at the back of his right leg after missing the toss from Mark Reynolds, and after a brief visit from manager Dave Martinez and the Nationals’ trainer, he was lifted from the start in favor of debuting righty Jefry Rodriguez, who was called up this morning after Tim Collins was placed on the Paternity List.
Rodriguez vs the Braves: Pressed into action when Jeremy Hellickson suffered an injury two batters into today’s game, 24-year-old right-hander Jefry Rodriguez gave up a single in his first major league inning, with the runner he inherited from Hellickson scoring on the play, 1-0 Braves. He needed just two pitches to get out of the first, however, popping up Freddie Freeman for the first out, and getting the second out when Nick Markakis, who’d hit the RBI single, was thrown out trying to take second on the play.
Rodriguez worked around a single and a walk in the second, and stranded a two-out double with help from his defense in a 14-pitch third that left him at 35 total after 2 2⁄3 IP. He sat 95-97 with his fastball in the Braves’ fourth, touching 98, and worked around a two-out tweener by Preston Tucker that fell in for a hit in short left field, and an intentional walk to Dansby Swanson that let the righty attack the opposing pitcher for out No. 3 of a 16-pitch frame, 51 total after 3 2⁄3. A quick, 12-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth left Rodriguez at 63 pitches after 4 2⁄3 innings of work.
Jefry Rodriguez’s Line in MLB debut: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 63 P, 41 S, 2/3 GO/FO.
Sanchez vs the Nationals: Anibal Sanchez returned from a DL stint for a hamstring injury and went four innings against the New York Mets in which he gave up five hits (two home runs), two walks, and four earned runs last time out before today, leaving him with a 3.00 ERA and a .239/.338/.418 line against in four games (three starts) and 18 IP this season.
While the veteran righty has been solid early in his outings (.129/.250/.161 first time through the lineup), he’s struggled the second time around early in 2018 (.346/.452/.731).
This afternoon in SunTrust Park, the 34-year-old starter retired the first six batters he faced before an error by Dansby Swanson on a Wilmer Difo grounder to short gave the Nationals their first baserunner, and after Difo was bunted over to second, Trea Turner got a high 0-2 fastball that he lined out to left field for a two-run blast that put the Nationals on top, 2-1 in the third.
Sanchez retired the Nationals in order in the fourth, and worked around a leadoff double by Michael A. Taylor in the fifth, stranding Taylor at third three outs later to keep it a 2-1 game.
A 22-pitch sixth left Sanchez at 75 total, and he came back out for the seventh and a 19-pitch frame in which he worked around a two-out walk kept it a one-run game, 2-1 in the Nationals’ favor.
Anibal Sanchez’s Line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks, 1 HR, 94 P, 62 S, 11/2 GO/FO.
Turner Turns Things Around: Trea Turner had a 13-game hitting streak snapped in Saturday afternoon’s game in Atlanta, and it was snapped in an ugly way, with the 24-year-old going 0 for 7 with five Ks in the 14-inning win. He grounded out the first time up today, but got an 0-2 fastball up in the zone from Anibal Sanchez in the third, and did. not. miss. Turner hit a two-run home run out to left on a line to put the Nationals on top 2-1 with his 7th of the 2018 campaign and sixth in the last month-plus after he hit just one in March/April.
MORE BULLPEN ACTION: Sammy Solis took over for the Nats in the Braves’ sixth, working around a two-out walk in a 22-pitch frame. Still a 2-1 game.
Shawn Kelley took over for the Nationals in the seventh, and three pitches in it was tied up at 2-2 after Dansby Swanson hit a 2-0 fastball out to left for a solo homer. Swanson’s 5th of 2018, and second of the series.
Dan Winkler got the ball in the top of the eighth inning, retiring the side in order in a quick, 10-pitch frame.
Brandon Kintzler walked Freddie Freeman, putting the potential go-ahead run on with no one out in the home-half of the eighth, but he picked him off when Freeman tried to time the reliever and get an early jump with one down. Kurt Suzuki got a second chance after what looked like a check-swing strike three, then took a sinker off the elbow on the next pitch. Kintzler got a groundout to short from Johan Camargo to end the eighth.
Arodys Vizcaino missed low with a 97 mph 3-2 fastball to Juan Soto, who took the leadoff walk to start the top of the ninth, and moved up to second on a bloop single to center by Anthony Rendon that dropped between three Braves. Mark Reynolds lined out to center, and Soto didn’t advance to third, Brian Goodwin K’d looking at a 3-2 slider inside for the second out, and Michael A. Taylor went down swinging at a 3-2 slider outside.
Tanner Roark took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, with the bullpen stretched out, and gave up a one-out double to left on a play that was overturned upon review, and the next batter, Charlie Culberson, hit a walk-off blast to left on an 0-1 pitch, 4-2 Braves.
Final Score: 4-2 Braves
Nationals now 33-25