The members of the Washington Nationals bullpen weren’t about to admit it, but based on the numbers during their three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, they had to have felt taxed, overworked and in need of a break.
“That kind of stuff happens,” Clippard said. “It’s a little more difficult obviously. You kind of get caught off guard a little bit. Stuff like that happens, but it’s happened before, and we’ve got plenty of guys that are capable to get outs. Just a tough loss today. Just wasn’t able to get it done.”
The Nationals’ 9-8 loss on Sunday in the rubber match of their first series after the all-star break proved to be the breaking point. When Tom Gorzelanny left after two innings with an ankle injury from a collision with Braves catcher Brian McCann, Manager Davey Johnson wound up using four relievers, including Clippard for a second consecutive night.
In the end, the bullpen failed to protect a 6-2 lead forged when Washington tied it in the third and added four more in the next inning. But Rodriguez began the home half of the fifth by giving up a double to Wilkin Ramirez, then hit Jason Heyward on the foot. Jordan Schafer singled to score Ramirez, and Heyward moved to third.
Schafer then stole second before Martin Prado grounded out to first. That’s when Sean Burnett came in, and after getting ahead of McCann 0-1, gave up the tying home run. Freddie Freeman walked next, and Dan Uggla singled to right center. Freeman advanced to third on the hit, and Alex Gonzalez’s grounder brought him home for the go-ahead run.
“I’ve got to make some adjustments and figure this out,” said Burnett, who entered with a 9.00 ERA this season in five appearances against the Braves. “It’s costing the team ballgames.”
Burnett it turned out was in line for the win when the Nationals responded with a pair of runs in the sixth for an 8-7 lead, but Clippard yielded the equalizing homer after retiring five consecutive hitters, including two straight strikeouts to open the eighth.
Nate McLouth dealt Clippard his fifth blown save this season by depositing his 1-0 pitch over the right field wall. One night earlier, Clippard worked a perfect eighth to set up Drew Storen for the save in a 5-2 win.
“The offense did a great job today,” Clippard said. “This is definitely a game we’ve got to win.”
In the ninth, Johnson called on Mattheus, who also pitched 1 1/3 innings on Saturday for his second hold this season. This time, though, Mattheus gave up a leadoff walk to pinch hitter Brooks Conrad, who advanced to second on Schafer’s sacrifice bunt. Prado reached on a fielder’s choice that Ian Desmond flipped to Ryan Zimmerman, and the third baseman tagged out Conrad sliding into the bag.
But Prado stole second with McCann at the plate, and after an intentional walk to McCann, Freeman singled to right to end the game.
“That’s exactly when I want the ball, in close games,” Mattheus said. “Top of their lineup, that’s when I want the ball. I want to go out there and prove that I can get those guys out.”
Now Johnson must figure out which relievers will be available if Jason Marquis, tonight’s starter in Houston, fails to go deep into the game. Todd Coffey is a possibility, and Ross Detwiler may be available for long relief, although he threw two innings on Friday in an 11-1 loss.
The ideal situation apart from a complete game would be Marquis pitching eight innings, then handing the ball to Storen to close without having to use any other relievers.
“The bullpen, I pushed it to the limit,” Johnson said. “All of them did a great job. Unfortunately I had to expand their roles, which they’re not used to.”
FROM THE POST
In yesterday’s 9-8 loss to the Braves, the Nationals fail to hold multiple leads and fall on Freddie Freeman’s RBI in the bottom of the ninth.
Tom Gorzelanny leaves after two innings with a right ankle sprain.
Brian Bixler gets optioned to Class AAA Syracuse.
FROM THE MINORS
Syracuse 8, Lehigh Valley 4: Tommy Milone gave up one run over 7 1/3 innings and went 3 for 3 for the Chiefs at Alliance Bank Stadium.
Lexington 6, Hagerstown 2: The Legends scored four runs in the bottom of the eight to win at home.
Harrisburg 9, Akron 7: Bill Rhinehart and Tyler Moore each had two RBI in the Senators’ home win.
Lynchburg 5, Potomac 4: Joseph Terdoslavich had three RBI for the visiting Hillcats.