In the top of the seventh inning Wednesday night, Dan Haren’s spot in the lineup came up. He had thrown only 86 pitches. He had struck out eight of the 20 Mets hitters he faced while allowing one out and one walk, which only took him 86 pitches. Haren did not walk to the plate, though. Manager Davey Johnson lifted him for a pinch-hitter. After the game, Johnson went up to Haren and told him, “That’s the first time I ever hooked a guy with a one-hitter.”
The quick hook of Haren may have been a surprise, but Johnson had a plan. With left-handed hitters Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda leading off the seventh, Johnson called on seldom-used Xavier Cedeno. He was not the pitcher you would have expected to see face two of the only reputable major league hitters in the Mets’ lineup in a one-run game. But then, Johnson does not plan to keep Cedeno seldom-used for long.
Cedeno had appeared in only three major league games all season, but at Class AAA Syracuse left-handed batters hit .164 against him. Cedeno struck out Murphy on three pitches, the last a devastating slider low and away. Duda flied out to shallow right field. Johnson called on Drew Storen to finish the seventh, and Cedeno walked into the dugout having done his job. Later, as Cedeno walked out of the clubhouse, shortstop Ian Desmond stopped him and gave him a fist bump.
Johnson wants to use the final 17 games of the season find out what the Nationals have in Cedeno, a 27-year-old who has a 5.98 ERA in 55 career appearances. They acquired him off waivers from the Astros in April in part because he had an option remaining. The Nationals used that option last year. Next spring, the Nationals will either make Cedeno a part of their opening day bullpen or risk losing him to another that thinks he can fit into theirs.
Cedeno had impressive season at Class AAA, interspersed with brief and essentially invisible stints with the Nationals. For one night, Johnson liked what he saw.
“That was big,” Johnson said. “First time I brought a left-hander in and he really looked good.”
All year, Johnson has fretted about the left side of the Nationals’ bullpen. When Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley joined the Nationals’ coaching staff for September, Johnson spoke with him about the relievers he had inherited.
“Tony Beasley said he pitched better than Ian Krol down there for him and he liked the way he attacked left-handers, and I wanted to see it,” Johnson said. “I hadn’t seen it yet up here. He did a great job. I liked the way he went after the first two guys. He’ll get more work. That was a big thing in the ballgame.”
The Nationals remain in the playoff, just barely, but they will also use the final two-plus weeks for auditions. One of those will belong to Cedeno.
FROM THE POST
Ryan Zimmerman continued his redemptive late-season push in the Nationals’ 3-0 win over the Mets.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Trenton 5, Harrisburg 4: The Senators fell behind, 2-0, in the best-of-five Eastern League championship series. A.J. Cole allowed no earned runs in four innings on seven hits and a walk, striing out one. Billy Burns went 1 for 3 with two walks and a steal. Steve Souza went 1 for 5 with a double. Jerad Head went 2 for 4 with a double.
Hagerstown was off. The Suns are tied 1-1 with Savannah in the South Atlantic League championship, which continues tonight in Savannah.