Winning extra-inning games is exhilarating, but it’s also taxing on a bullpen.
Just ask Nationals manager Matt Williams. Prior to Wednesday’s series finale against Arizona, the Nationals were 10-2 in their past 12 games, with four of those wins coming in extra innings. While clutch victories can give a club great experience in pressure situations, Williams noted, they can also wear out relievers.
“We want to make sure we’re mindful of everybody’s health and their load,” Williams said. “But we get in a situation to win a game, we have to try to do that too. It’s not easy, but it is baseball.”
Before Wednesday, setup man Tyler Clippard had already pitched 10 innings in August and middle reliever Craig Stammen had gone 91/3 innings — having appeared in extra innings twice. Drew Storen was called upon for five innings in that same stretch. And closer Rafael Soriano, who had three blown saves since the All-Star break, appeared in save situations in four games in five days from Aug. 13 to Aug. 17.
Even though the bullpen has been maxed out lately, Stammen said the relievers have relished the challenge of pitching in crucial moments.
“I don’t think it’s taking a toll,” said Stammen, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 11th in Monday’s 5-4 win over Arizona. “We like pitching in close games. All seven of us would love to pitch in the ninth inning with the game on the line. That’s what we’re built for, that’s how we got here. I think we’re excited to take the ball whenever we can.”
The Nationals held a six-game lead over the Braves and had a bullpen ERA of 2.81 — fourth-best in the majors — entering Wednesday.
While Williams acknowledged the need for more blowout wins, such as Tuesday’s 8-1 victory over Arizona, he won’t be reluctant to turn to his bullpen in tight situations, even if fatigue is a concern.
“It’s just part of the game. It happens sometimes,” Williams said. “You never want it by any means. But if you’re given the situation as presented to you, you’re given one choice. You can give up or you can fight. These guys fight.”
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