There are good, logical reasons for Brian Broderick and Henry Rodriguez sitting in the Nationals’ bullpen every game, each using one of 25 precious roster spots. Broderick is a 24-year-old groundball machine who might blossom into a back-of-the-rotation starter. Rodriguez is a flamethrower with the arm to set-up or close, possibly someday soon.
The Nationals would risk losing either player if they sent them down to the minors – Broderick is a Rule 5 pick, and Rodriguez is out of options. The Nationals, though, are making a clear sacrifice by keeping them. They’re carrying two pitchers who, for all intents and purposes, are unusable in crucial situations. Someday, maybe, they’ll be contributions. It’s not their fault, but right now, they’re not.
Last night, that left Manager Jim Riggleman facing a bevy of bad choices entering the 10th inning. Sean Burnett had already pitched, having yielded the lead in the seventh by allowing a grand slam. Todd Coffey had thrown 25 pitches over 1 2/3 innings the day before and was not available. Drew Storen had thrown two days in a row and was available, but someone would have to pitch if the Nationals took the lead. Tyler Clippard had also thrown two days in a row, but if both he and Storen pitched, that would leave none of Riggleman’s high-leverage relievers available for Friday – Burnett had pitched for the third straight day.
“I had to have something for tomorrow,” Riggleman said.
So, basically, the way Riggleman saw it, he could either send out Doug Slaten for his third inning, something he had never done in the majors. He could have pitched Storen, what would have happened in the 11th? Or he could call on Broderick – who has actually been pitching better recently – or Rodriguez, both completely untested in meaningful situations, the latter of whom played pepper with the backstop in his last outing. Slaten, as you surely know, ended up giving up the winning run.
It’s easy to blame the manager when an unconventional decision leads to a loss. The handling of the bullpen last night once Burnett gave up the lead, though, had more to do with the construction of the roster than Riggleman’s preference. That’s on General Manager Mike Rizzo – he put together a bullpen that, when the game is close and late, shrinks to five relievers.
That’s not necessarily a mistake – it’s what he has to do to keep Rodriguez and Broderick, unless the Nationals find a way to stash them on the disabled list. But it’s a choice that can – and, last night, did – greatly restrict the way Riggleman deploys relievers. It’s a choice that sacrifices the present for the future.
And the Nationals surely have better right-now options at Class AAA Syracuse. Cole Kimball has not allowed an earned run in 13 2/3 innings, and Collin Balester, who also proved himself late last season in the majors, has allowed two runs in 11 innings. Every pitch they throw in the minors is a wasted bullet.
As unsightly as the late innings were, a lot had to go wrong for it to come to Slaten pitching in the 10th. The plan was for Jordan Zimmermann to pitch the seventh, Burnett to pitch the eighth and Storen to pitch the ninth. With one out, Zimmermann issued his second walk of the game and yielded a cheesy, bloop single to Alex Gonzalez, which ended his night. Burnett induced a pair of two-strike check swings, one on Brooks Conrad and the other on Martin Prado, and both calls went against the Nationals. Conrad walked, and Prado crushed the game-tying grand slam. The Nationals offense, lest we miss a culprit, produced one base runner (Jerry Hairston, walk) after they fell behind and for the game hit 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
But all of that did go wrong, and there was Riggleman, pressed into choosing between unappetizing options. The right move may have been to simply gamble with Broderick, who in his last nine innings has allowed two earned runs on nine hits. But it’s also pretty tough to put in a pitcher who has never pitched with the lead in the majors.
No matter what Riggleman decided, the choice was difficult. That happens sometimes when, in close games, you play 23 on 25.
FROM THE POST
Bryce Harper is seeing in HD, murdering baseballs, staying in Hagerstown a bit longer and ready to fight if he has to, Dave Sheinin writes.
In a 6-5, extra-inning loss to the Braves, the Nationals squandered a four-run lead and wasted Jordan Zimmermann’s stellar start.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Norfolk 4, Syracuse 1: Yunesky Maya allowed three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings on seven hits and a walk, striking out three. Jesus Flores went 1 for 3 with a walk.
Richmond 6, Harrisburg 3: Chris Rahl went 4 for 4. Derek Norris went 2 for 5. Ryan Tatusko allowed one earned run in 4 2/3 innings on six hits and two walks, striking out three.
Potomac was off.
Delmarva 6, Hagerstown 3: Bryce Harper went 1 for 3 with a walk, a run and a strikeout. David Freitas went 2 for 3 with a double.