The Nationals won yesterday when they finally received a couple clutch hits from Ivan Rodriguez and Laynce Nix, but they had a chance only because of another absurdly dominant performance from their bullpen. Chad Gaudin chipped in with a 1-2-3, two-strikeout seventh, but mostly the Nationals did what they usually do. They turned the game over Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett.
Clippard struck out three of the six batters he faced and retired them all. Storen had to work after a leadoff single by Jose Reyes in the 10th, but he eventually stranded Reyes at third. Sean Burnett faced three batters and did not allow a ball out of the infield, striking out two of the three Mets he faced.
The Nationals have reason to lean on those three. They have combined to allow one (1) earned run in 20 1/3 innings – a 0.41 ERA – while striking out 20. They’ve inherited 12 runners and allowed three to score. Clippard has been especially relied upon – he leads the majors in relief innings with 8 2/3 and strikeouts in relief with 10. The other four Nationals’ reliever have a 9.69 combined ERA.
Soon, though, the Nationals may come to lean too heavily on those three. The Nationals’ bullpen in total has pitched 33 1/3 innings, meaning Clippard, Storen and Burnett have accounted for 61 outs and the other four relievers have accounted for 39. One major league pitcher, Joakim Soria, has appeared in seven games. Clippard and Storen have appeared in six games, and Burnett has pitched in five.
Both Clippard and Storen have pitched in all four Nationals victories, and Burnett has thrown in three of them. Two of those wins have been in extra innings, and in all of them, the Nationals were either tied, leading by less than two runs or trailing after six innings. The Nationals have been competitive in all but one of their losses, so they could claim their record could, with a few more breaks, be up around 7-2 or 8-1. But they could just as easily be 1-8 or 0-9. The reason they’re not is Clippard, Storen and Burnett.
Clippard has often said he throws better when he pitches often, when he can find a rhythm with his mechanics. But even he admitted “there’s a balance” to often he can and should pitch. At this rate, Clippard and Storen would pitch 108 games. That’s obviously distorted by the nine-game sample size, but it also can’t continue.
The Nationals can more easily get away with leaning on those three this time of year, when days off crop up more frequently. As the year moves along, though, the Nationals will either have to start entrusting innings to the rest of their bullpen or risk burning out their three best relievers.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals overcame a two-run deficit in the eighth for a 7-3, 11-inning victory over the Mets that gave them a .500 record on their first road trip.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 2, Lehigh Valley 0: Tom Milone allowed no runs on five hits and no walks with four strikeouts in his Class AAA debut. Cole Kimball allowed a hit and a walk while recording his second save. Corey Brown went 1 for 4 with a triple.
Harrisburg 4, Bowie 3: Henry Rodriguez retired all three batters he faced, striking out two, in his second rehab appearance. Rodriguez has retired all nine hitters he’s faced, striking out five. Archie Gilbert went 2 for 4.
Potomac 7, Lynchburg 6 (10 innings): Rick Hague went 2 for 5 with a walk and a game-winning RBI double, scoring Eury Perez. Steven Souza went 2 for 5 with a home run. Trevor Holder allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in six innings, striking out three.
Hagerstown 7, Rome 6: Bryce Harper snapped an 0-for-9 skid and went 2 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and a strikeout. Blake Kelson went 3 for 5.