With Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals continue to save their best baseball for last and keep their scant playoff hopes alive. They are 4 1/2 games back, or four in the loss column, of the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild-card spot with 11 games left. Over the final two weeks of the season, the Nationals will need someone to get crucial outs against left-handed batters, and one unfamiliar face may be called upon in those spots.

Xavier Cedeño has been up with the Nationals since rosters expanded on Sept. 1, but has turned heads and done well in his limited time. The left-handed reliever has allowed only one run over five appearances during his most recent stint. He has been tough on left-handed hitters; they are 1 for 9 against him in that span.

Cedeño’s presence comes at a crucial time. Manager Davey Johnson has said the Nationals are evaluating their left-handed relievers because there’s a need for strong, reliable arms. Even next season, the Nationals will left-handed relievers, too. Fernando Abad has struggled with left-handed batters. Ian Krol has stumbled in the second half. Tyler Clippard, a multi-purpose reliever with strong reverse splits against left-handers, has been used in more important spots of the game. So in the past two weeks, Cedeño has been Johnson’s left-handed reliever of choice. After a scoreless outing last week, Johnson joked after the game.

“Where was he all year when I needed him?” Johnson said of Cedeño. “Somebody dropped the ball. I’m glad to see him now.”

Cedeño, 27, came to the Nationals in late April when he was claimed off waivers from the Houston Astros. He had a 3.77 ERA over 31 innings with them last season, but an 11.37 ERA in 6 1/3 innings with them this season. Cedeño spent the majority of the season in Class AAA Syracuse, but served several stints with the Nationals as an extra arm, often without even entering the game. His wife would accompany him on his trips back and forth between the Nationals and Syracuse, but he made sure it didn’t wear on him mentally.

“You have to focus on your job, you can’t let it get in your head,” he said. “If that gets into head, you’ll mess up.”

At Syracuse, he posted a 1.31 ERA over 34 1/3 innings. Opponents hit only .189 against him, and left-handers even worse, hitting .164 off him. The biggest difference between his success with the Nationals compared to his struggles with the Astros was his pitching approach.

“Just attacking the batters,” he said. “Throwing strikes and attacking. With the Astros, I wasn’t doing that as much. I was walking people too much.”

Cedeño can be effective against right-handers, too, because he can drop his arm and throw with a sidearm motion. Against left-handers, he has been effective by throwing his moving fastball hard and inside, and then following with a breaking ball away. He sees his final month of the season with the Nationals as a chance to prove his abilities, and the Nationals will surely need him.

“I can show them that I can be here and for next year,” he said.


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