The thing about baseball is, they don’t let you quit. Someone in the Nationals bullpen needed to get the 23 outs Jason Marquis could not, and someone needed to ensure their best relievers were not wasted in a blowout. With one out in the second inning, in trotted Collin Balester.

Davey Johnson has talked about the need for a long reliever who can step in and bring some stability to a game that’s veered out of control. Sunday, it was Balester. He pitched four innings and threw 76 pitches, the Nationals’ longest relief appearance this year and his longest outing, by far, since the Nationals converted him to the bullpen last April at Class AAA Syracuse. His longest relief appearance had been 46 pitches.

“I’m always prepared,” Balester said. “That’s my motto right now. I’ll do anything it takes to stay up here. If they want me to throw five innings, take two days off, throw five more, it doesn’t matter. I feel great. I’ve been working out hard. I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do.”


(Rob Carr/GETTY IMAGES)

“That’s going to win us games next week,” closer Drew Storen said. “No doubt about it.”

Balester’s willingness to take the ball stemmed from necessity. The Nationals played a doubleheader Saturday, and they do not have another off day until next Sunday, the final day before the all-star break.

“I felt great,” Balester said. “I know our bullpen has been used a little bit. I would have went 100 pitches if they needed me to, just to help some of the relievers that have been throwing a lot.”

It also came from his desire to prove he belongs. Balester has a minor league option, and has already toggled between Syracuse and the majors three times this season. The Nationals need a second left-hander, and just signed veteran J.C. Romero to a minor league deal in hopes he can fill that role.

“I’m just happy to be on this team,” Balester said. “And I’ll do anything that it takes to stay on this team.”

FROM THE POST

The Nationals usually play close games, but the Pirates blasted them in a 10-2 loss, Shemar Woods writes.

He didn’t think it would happen, but Tyler Clippard was named to the all-star team yesterday.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 10, Buffalo 4: Stephen Lombardozzi went 3 for 6 with two doubles. Chris Marrero went 2 for 5. Craig Stammen allowed thre runs in six innings on eight hits and a walk, striking out five.

New Brunswick 9, Harrisburg 3: Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run. Tanner Roark allowed four runs in five innings on seven hits and three walks, striking out six.

Potomac was suspended.

Hagerstown 8, Lexington 2: Bryce Harper played center field and went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Matt Grace allowed no earned runs in seven innings on five hits and no walks, strking out five.

Auburn 10, State College 4: Hendry Jimenez went 3 for 5 with a home run and a walk. Matt Skole went 3 for 5 with two doubles.