John Lannan exited last night’s 7-2 win over the Dodgers with one out in the sixth inning, with the Nationals leading by a run and the tying run on second base. It was the kind of high-leverage situation Sean Burnett has found himself in all season, no matter his consistent struggles. “They throw me in the fire,” Burnett said. “I just had to start pitching better.”
Burnett has not been able to sustain any success this season, but he gave himself another chance to string solid outings together last night. Burnett induced a groundout by Tony Gwynn Jr. and struck out Rafael Furcal looking at a 92-mph sinker, getting out of the inning in nine pitches, seven of them strikes.
It was the kind of performance Burnett routinely delivered last season, and the kind that has been so lacking this year. Burnett pitched a scoreless inning in his last appearance, too, and he hopes the consecutive outings might be the start of something.
“I gotta have a few more good ones before I think I’m over the hump,” Burnett said. “But it’s nice to get out of a situation like that tonight, a big situation. Hopefully I can get some confidence from that and get going. It was a big outing tonight for me.”
Before one game in Houston, after he had allowed the Braves to come back in the game Sunday by allowing a three-run homer, he sat in the bullpen before the game with pitching coach Steve McCatty and starter Livan Hernandez. They assured he still had the same stuff last year, that he should be the same confident pitcher. They emphasized to Burnett he just needed to locate his pitches better.
“Cat was telling me, obviously the talent is there,” Burnett said. “It was more my location that was hurting me. I have the same stuff I’ve had for the last three or four years. We had a real good talk. It’s just nice. It’s been a struggle for me. It’s been a long year so far. My teammates have been great. The conversation I had with Cat the other was just a little pat on the back to get going.”
Even as Burnett has struggled, the Nationals have consistently given him the ball in big spots. “I talked to Burnie,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I said, ‘I’ve got all the confidence in the world in you. I’m going to use you in tough situations.’ We need him. And he knows we need him.”
Friday, his two quick outs set the tone for dominant relief performance. Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen combined to retire all eight batters they faced, striking out four of them. Storen has been particularly good lately. In his last 10 innings, Storen has allowed no runs and no walks, yielding just six hits and striking out nine.
Storen, though, can only perform his role most nights if Burnett performs his. Friday night, Burnett did.