The Nationals’ bullpen has been lights out

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Jerry Blevins (13) throws during a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park Thursday, April 17, 2014, in Washington. The Cardinals won 8-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

brushback_harperBy the time the Nationals arrived in the Bay Area on Wednesday night, they were back in first place by a half-game over the Atlanta Braves and – yeah, really – the Miami Marlins. The return of Wilson Ramos and the pending debut of Doug Fister mean the Nationals have survived the worst of their attrition.

The Nationals have weathered injuries for many reasons. Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth have all hit at an elite level. Their offense has produced late-inning comebacks and clutch hits. The most overlooked, and maybe most significant, engine for the Nationals’ success has been their bullpen.

Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg left after 7 1/3 innings with two men on base, needing the bullpen to record five outs to preserve a one-run lead. Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano mowed through the heart of the Dodgers lineup, retiring all five hitters they faced. Soriano struck out two, which extended his scoreless streak to 25 innings, dating back to last season.

Only eight bullpens have thrown more innings than the Nationals at 110 2/3, but the work has not hindered its excellence. Their 2.11 ERA ranks third in the majors. Against the Dodgers, aside from Ross Detwiler’s four-run blip, Nationals relievers faced 39 batters, allowed seven hits, struck out 13 and walked none.

In the Nationals’ 10 comeback victories, their offensive heroics stand out. But the bullpen has meant just as much to those wins. When the Nationals’ bullpen inherits a deficit, it remains stagnant. Their relievers have given the Nationals their best chance to come back. The offense needed to come through, but it had the chance in most cases because the bullpen didn’t allow the game to slip away.

Three-run deficits have not turned into five-run blowouts. Last year, struggles in middle relief led to deflation. This year, success has led to confidence.

Before the sixth inning, the Nationals have been outscored, 85-69. From the sixth inning and later, the Nationals have drubbed opponents, 82-45. Their offense has come through with huge runs and battered opposing relievers. But the Nationals’ own bullpen has played a major role.

Aside from Detwiler, whose management we’ve covered, every member of the bullpen has been dominant. Jerry Blevins, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Aaron Barrett each have scoreless streaks of at least five appearances. Storen and Barrett have both allowed one run all season in 10 2/3 innings.

Last season, the Nationals’ bullpen lacked any kind of threat from the left side, and roles quickly became mangled. This season, Blevins has been tremendous, and every other reliever has settled into place. Their work has been a primary cause of the Nationals’ success

FROM THE POST

Boz examines just where Stephen Strasburg is, and what he might become.

Stephen Strasburg pitched into the eighth and Wilson Ramos returned in the Nationals’ 3-2 victory over the Dodgers.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Moore optioned, LaRoche hurting

Williams hit by car

Ramos returns

Detwiler’s usage

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 6, Durham 5: Emmanuel Burriss went 2 for 6 with a double, four RBI and a walk-off single in the 10th. Will Rhymes went 3 for 5 with a triple. Destin Hood went 1 for 4 with a home run. Ryan Tatusko allowed two runs, one earned, in five innings on three hits and three walks, striking out four.

Harrisburg 5, Richmond 0: Matt Purke allowed no runs in six innings on two hits and two walks, striking out three as he lowered his ERA to 7.18. Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 4 with a double.

Frederick 3, Potomac 2: Brandon Miller went 1 for 4 with a home run. Shawn Pleffner went 2 for 4 with a double. Ronald Pena allowed two runs in six innings on four hits and a walk, striking out one.

Hagerstown 4, Hickory 2: Austin Voth allowed no runs in six innings on one hit and one walk, striking out seven. Voth has a 2.28 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. Wilman Rodriguez went 2 for 4 with a double, a triple and a steal. Estarlin Martinez went 2 for 4 with a walk.

 

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