In the seventh inning last night, Ryan Mattheus made a relief appearance that to any other pitcher would have felt routine. But for Mattheus, who had not pitched since Aug. 25, it was his first appearance since coming off the disabled list Tuesday. He threw just three pitches and retired both batters he faced. More importantly, he felt the reassurance of pitching without a tired right shoulder.
“It wasn’t really the arm that was the question,” said Mattheus, who warmed up Tuesday but never got in the game. “It was getting back out there, the speed of the game. I faced hitters in a simulated game, but with all the fans in the stands, it’s different than just throwing a side session. It was nice to get back out there.”
The Nationals’ bullpen had an eventful night aside from Mattheus’s return. In the sixth, Tom Gorzelanny escaped a bases-loaded jam. He also recorded the first out of the seventh, which gave him 7 2 / 3 consecutive scoreless innings. Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth, lowering his ERA to 1.90.
Even the ninth inning, with the Nationals up 6-0, provided some intrigue. Doug Slaten got the first two outs, both left-handed hitters. With the right-handed portion of the Phillies lineup coming up — and just out to go — Johnson called on Todd Coffey, against whom right-handed hitters were 1 for their last 29.
The Citizens Bank Park crowd did not take kindly to Johnson’s decision. They booed him as he walked to the mound, and they booed him again as he walked back. Before Johnson reached the dugout, he shrugged and put his palms up while looking at one cluster of fans.
“What do you want me to do?” Johnson said. “These Philly fans, they can nitpick you. One thing about the game of baseball, you never take anything for granted. I was going to control the bench. They’re too good of a hitting ballclub.”
Naturally, Coffey gave up two quick hits, including an RBI double. But Coffey didn’t let the damage go any farther than that. With 3 2 / 3 innings, the Nationals’ bullpen continued its impressive recent surge. Over the last 12 games, Nationals relievers have allowed nine earned runs in 46 innings, a 1.76 ERA.
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