Washington Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle was unavailable last night, after he pitched on Wednesday and Thursday, so with a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning, manager Davey Martinez turned to Wander Suero to close out the series opener with the Atlanta Braves.
Suero, who’d struggled going in back-to-back outings, with a 9.00 ERA when pitching on back-to-back days, and a 7.71 ERA with one day’s rest, was throwing for the third straight game, but he told his manager before the game that he was good to go, and was excited about the opportunity.
“He said he was good, basically,” Martinez explained. “We talked to him before the game and he said he was good, so I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got the ninth,’ and he was jacked up.”
Stephen Strasburg gave up three runs in six innings, Javy Guerra worked a scoreless top of the seventh, then Tony Sipp and Trevor Rosenthal combined for a scoreless eighth to keep the Nationals up by a run, 4-3.
The plan the second-year skipper put together going into the game was going just like he wanted it to.
“[Suero] was the closer,” Martinez said, “I had Sipp mapped out where he was at, and I told Rosie he had to come in today in a big moment, and that was huge.”
Rosenthal, who’s shown signs of improvement after a disastrous start to his first season in D.C. following Tommy John surgery in 2017, got a groundout from rookie Austin Riley with the potential tying run on second base, and it was still a one-run game after eight, so the Nationals’ skipper turned to Suero.
Suero said he was good to go, but how did he know that the right-hander was up for it?
“He said he was good,” Martinez reiterated, “and then when I told him he’s got the ninth his eyes lit up, so he assured me he was good.”
It was rocky there for a minute though in the ninth. Suero walked Brian McCann, and gave up a single by Ozzie Albies that put the potential tying run, pinch runner Johan Camargo, on second, but Charlie Culberson lined out to right, Ronald Acuña, Jr. went down swinging at a 97 MPH 2-2 cutter, and Dansby Swanson sent a fly to short right where Victor Robles, Michael A. Taylor, and Brian Dozier converged and Robles made a sliding catch for out No. 3.
“[Robles] had an unbelievable break on the ball, he really did,” Martinez said.
“I’m just happy that nobody got hurt, because it was fairly close. Dozier said he heard footsteps and he knew [Robles] was coming, as we all know Robles, he’s not afraid of anything, so Dozier tried to do the right thing and get out of the way.
“What a play though.”
Suero earned his first MLB save with a 16-pitch, nine-strike inning, and the 27-year-old reliever was pumped. Like, really pumped.
Suero said he was confident he could get the job done and eager to prove to his manager that the decision to give him the ninth was a good one.
“Because of the confidence he’s given me, especially lately in big situations,” Suero told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “despite my numbers not being where I’d like them to be, he keeps giving me the confidence. And so I’m definitely excited and ready to be out there and help out any way I can.”
When did Martinez come up with the game plan for how he was going to handle things with Doolittle unavailable?
“I started thinking about it this morning in case guys weren’t available, and then about an hour before the game I really — I have that card and I start mapping out what I wanted to do.”
This time it went according to plan, and with their fifth straight win, the Nationals pulled within 6.5 games of first place in the NL East.