In the end, Nationals closer Kyle Finnegan yielded four runs in the ninth, blowing his attempt to secure a four-out save. But long before that, the Nationals (60-86) had a chance to minimize their relievers’ influence on the action. Instead, with Josh Rogers cruising and with the offense unable to provide much separation, they made the risky decision to lean on a relative weakness.
They pulled Rogers after five innings and 73 pitches — his line stained only by a single, a walk and two hit batters — so Andrew Stevenson could hit with two outs and the bases loaded. Stevenson struck out, stranding three of the 14 men Washington left on base and handing the bullpen a 2-0 lead. Then that backfired, over and over.
“With the day off tomorrow, we had everybody available but [Austin Voth], so I thought our bullpen would be in pretty good shape,” said Manager Dave Martinez, who wore No. 21 with his coaches during MLB’s Roberto Clemente Day to honor his childhood hero. “I wanted to get some more runs on the board. It didn’t happen. Josh gave us a good five innings; I think he probably had only one more inning in him.”
What was at stake? For starters, the Nationals’ first three-game series victory since Aug. 1. Beyond that, some cover for an offense that scored twice through five innings despite nine hits and three walks. But three batters after Rogers exited, Jesús Sánchez lifted a two-run, opposite-field shot off lefty reliever Alberto Baldonado. In the top of the seventh, Sam Clay yielded a single and a double before Mason Thompson was tagged with a game-tying single that smacked his right leg.
But Thompson escaped a jam when Alcides Escobar turned an eye-popping double play, sliding for Josh Bell’s throw at second before firing back to first on one knee. And soon, on the jagged path to a jagged win for the Nationals, the bullpen — not to mention Martinez — was nearly bailed out by patience, Escobar and an insurance homer from Bell.
In the bottom of the seventh, Lane Thomas took a bases-loaded walk — the Nationals’ fifth in the past two games — and Escobar added an RBI single off Anthony Bass. Bell erased Bryan De La Cruz’s solo shot off Wander Suero in the eighth. Finnegan replaced Suero with two outs in the eighth. He’s the closest the Nationals have had to a reliable reliever in the past six weeks.
This time, though, Finnegan issued a leadoff walk to Isan Díaz in the ninth, Jazz Chisholm Jr. reached on a dribbled single, Miguel Rojas brought Miami within 6-5 on a single to right, the Marlins tied it on back-to-back grounders, and Sánchez buried Washington with his second homer, a two-run blast to left. Finnegan also spiked a wild pitch that helped the Marlins (62-84) along.
“The leadoff walk hurts there, giving them a free base runner to start the inning‚” said Finnegan, adding that he didn’t have a feel for his slider or splitter. “Then I got, I think, four groundballs in a row after that and just a little tough luck, a little them finding the hole. Chisholm hit the chopper . . . just perfect placement — weren’t able to get an out there. And then had the groundball through the hole. The groundballs didn’t bounce my way.”
With the Nationals facing the Marlins’ Trevor Rogers, this was the first time two rookie pitchers shared a last name and a matchup since brothers Greg and Mike Maddux in 1986. Josh worked a full-count walk against Trevor in the second. Trevor responded with a single in the third, the only hit off Josh. Rogers (the Marlins’ one) entered with a 2.73 ERA in 22 appearances. Rogers (the Nationals’ one) was making his third start for a club that promoted him from Class AAA Rochester this month.
Further complicating the matter was that they are both left-handed.
Yet while Trevor Rogers had his pitch count shoot up, Josh Rogers stood out with command and efficiency. His rocking before each pitch was hard to miss, too. The Marlins swung at 16 of Josh Rogers’s four-seam fastballs and whiffed just once. But he got eight called strikes with the pitch — plus six more with his slider — showing an ability to work the edges. That’s integral for anyone throwing in the low 90s.
“Just attacking the zone, attacking hitters‚” said Rogers, who adopted Patrick Corbin’s slider grip for the start, swapping a traditional curve out of his arsenal. “Having confidence in the fastball, not scared to see how far somebody can hit it.”
Looked at one way, pulling Rogers early gave Stevenson a chance to tear the game wide open. But from a different angle, one less concerned with day-to-day results, the Nationals declined a chance to test Rogers in the later innings. He now has yielded five runs in 17⅓ innings with Washington, good for a small-sample ERA of 2.60. His highest pitch total was 87 on Sept. 4, his first major league outing since undergoing his second Tommy John surgery in July 2019. At 27, he’s a project with a lot to prove.
The unintended domino effect was five innings of bullpen lapses. But even if Rogers pitched the sixth, it’s likely the mess would have only been delayed.