There’s a certain rhythm you’ll hear, if you say it enough: Janssen to Storen to Pap.
“Tinkers to Evers to Chance”? Maybe not. Still, they’ll leave no late-inning gap.
The poetry will end here (for now) — although rhythm matters in baseball, and for the first time all season, the Nationals bullpen has a steady one. Casey Janssen is pitching like the full-time closer he was in Toronto. Drew Storen is pitching like the elite closer he was a week or so ago. Jonathan Papelbon is closing. Period.
Small sample size? Sure. But in Tuesday night’s 5-4 win over the Diamondbacks, which snapped a four-game losing streak combined with a four-game Mets win streak, the bullpen looked sturdier than it has at any point this season.
Janssen entered the game in the seventh, when the score was tied. If he pitches like the $5 million pitcher the Nationals signed this offseason, that will probably be his inning the rest of the way. He pitched a quick, perfect inning. Janssen has not allowed a run in his last 10 outings. He has allowed two hits over that span, and struck out 10.
“I feel like I’m throwing the ball like I should and like I know how to throw,” Janssen said. “Obviously, getting ahead helps out alot. Getting the first out of every inning, the standard stuff. I’m just commanding the ball to both sides of the plate well and hitting all my offspeed pitches when I need to.”
Storen pitched the eighth, in which the middle of the Diamondback’s order came to bat. Since Papelbon’s arrival, the message from Manager Matt Williams, Drew Storen, and others has been the same: sometimes, the toughest outs are earned in the seventh or eighth. Tuesday, Storen got them. He struck out Paul Goldschmidt in the midst of a perfect nine-pitch eighth in which he did not throw a ball. He has thrown three balls in four outings since becoming the setup man. He has not allowed a hit.
“Just about repeating your delivery. I’ve been able to do that,” Storen said. “I’m really comfortable with where my mechanics are right now, and I’m throwing the ball where I want to. So it’s good.”
Then came Papelbon, who allowed a leadoff single that turned into a run on a Yunel Escobar error. The tying run moved to second on that play. Papelbon shut the door, allowing the unearned run but no more.
In the meantime, Wilson Ramos singled home the go-ahead runs. The bullpen turned a Max Scherzer no-decision into a Nationals win: Janssen to Storen to Pap.
“When I was closing, sometimes the seventh inning guy faces 3-4-5. Sometimes the seventh inning guy comes in with runners on second and third, and there’s no save unless that guy does his job,” Janssen said. “All those outs are important.”
Now, the Nationals have the means to get them. Felipe Rivero’s power stuff and Aaron Barrett’s wipeout slider and Matt Thornton’s veteran guile got outs at times all season. But now is the time when dominance is preferable. Strong bullpens are almost always playoff prerequisites. As the Kansas City Royals showed with the three-headed bullpen monster that carried them to the World Series last year, dominant ones spark autumn magic.
“It’s becoming if the starters give you those 18 outs, then you hand it over to the pen,” Janssen said. “The front line guys still hopefully 21 outs, 24 outs, but it’s becoming a game where relying on the ‘pen more and more.”
Williams said “regardless of who it is, we want to get three outs and keep them from scoring.” That “we have a lot of guys in the pen that can do that.” He has more now, and more options for days like Wednesday, when Storen and Papelbon have pitched two days straight. Janssen can close. Tanner Roark has closed before, or can set up Janssen. Roles are clicking, things seem to be settling. When everyone’s rested, the Nationals have a formidable trio to shorten games the way playoff teams do, one they hope will lengthen their stay in October: Janssen to Storen to Pap.
IN THE POST
Wilson Ramos, mired in midseason struggles, provides the decisive blow in the Nationals streak-busting 5-4 win.
IN THE JOURNAL
Yunel Escobar talks about his defense at third base (ironically, a few hours before throwing a ball into the stands)
Stephen Strasburg could return soon, buoyed by his 11-strikeout rehab outing.
NATIONALS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Pawtucket 1: A.J. Cole allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings and struck out six to spark the Chiefs. Blake Treinen threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, and has yet to allow a run since being sent to Class AAA. Matt den Dekker was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and an RBI.
Akron 9, Harrisburg 5: Four Senators pitchers combined to allowed nine earned runs, rending a 4 for 5 day from Wilmer Difo and three hits from Shawn Pleffner futile in the loss.
Potomac 3, Lynchburg 1: Matthew Spann allowed one run in five innings and struck out six. Second baseman Reegie Corona went 4 for 4 and finished a home run away from the cycle. Left fielder Alec Keller went 3 for 5 and first baseman Grant deBruin 3 for 4.
Charlestown 7, Hagerstown 2: Connor Bach allowed one run in five innings but the Suns were victimized by six unearned runs. Third baseman David Masters had two hits to pace Hagerstown.
Auburn 8, West Virginia 3: Erick Fedde allowed one earned run in five innings to move to 4-1. First baseman Ian Sagdal homered and Randy Encarnacion doubled twice for the Doubledays.