Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez had three bullpen options with a one-run lead in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies. None were ideal.

Martinez could turn to setup man Fernando Rodney for the third time in two days; he could ask for a four-out save from another setup man, Wander Suero, whom he already had called on for the third straight day despite considering him for “emergency” use only before the game; or he could opt for Javy Guerra or Michael Blazek, outside their regular roles. That was it because his closer, Sean Doolittle, told the manager before the game he was unavailable to pitch a third consecutive game.

Martinez has developed a level of trust in the 42-year-old Rodney, who tells his manager he likes pitching every day. Martinez went with him. After one batter, the lead was gone. Then came a walk, a wild pitch, a single and a fielder’s choice that untied the score, and Washington’s bid to sweep the four-game set from Colorado ended with an 8-7 loss in the series finale.

AD
AD

Former National Ian Desmond greeted Rodney with a homer off a slider, a pitch Rodney throws about 1 percent of the time.

“I always throw one [slider] because that’s baseball,” Rodney said. “You have to show everything you have. . . . He hit a good pitch.”

The winning run came in on a groundball to third from another former National, Daniel Murphy, who beat the relay to prevent a double play, allowing Charlie Blackmon to score. The loss dropped the Nationals 4½ games behind the idle Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

In the big picture, Martinez was not upset at the bullpen collapse. In this series, the rotation’s ability to go deep in games — which has keyed the Nationals’ best-in-baseball stretch since May 24 — disappeared. Nationals starters amassed just 21 innings in four games, including five from Max Scherzer on Thursday as the ace returned from the injured list. Factor in Wednesday’s doubleheader, and the bullpen was stressed as much this week as it had been in months.

AD
AD

“All those guys . . . came in and pitched today valiantly,” Martinez said. “These guys have been doing an incredible job in the bullpen, so I’m proud of all those guys. Just couldn’t finish it.”

When asked whether he thought about leaving the game to more rested relievers, Guerra and Blazek, he demurred and explained that, with the offense already having erased two deficits, he wanted his best pitchers on the mound.

“You try to win the game at hand,” Martinez said. “I’m not worried about tomorrow until tomorrow. These were conversations with all these guys before the game, which guys could pitch and which guys couldn’t.”

Scherzer lacked his best stuff — four hits, three runs, two walks and eight strikeouts — and ended up a subplot as the team’s bullpen woes reared their head again with just six days remaining before the trade deadline.

AD
AD

At first, Scherzer with what he had seemed like enough. The Rockies stuffed their lineup with six lefties, who have hit Scherzer better than righties this season, but sat third baseman Nolan Arenado, first baseman Yonder Alonso and Desmond — all three of whom are among their team’s best hitters away from Coors Field, an extreme hitter’s park. At one point, Scherzer struck out four of five and seemed poised to cruise.

But the three-time Cy Young Award winner found trouble in the fourth, yielding a double, a single and a homer to put his team in a 3-0 hole. He worked a scoreless fifth and, at 86 pitches, sat near the limit he and Martinez established before the game. With his spot due to lead off the bottom of the inning, Martinez lifted Scherzer for pinch hitter Andrew Stevenson.

“Just felt rusty today,” Scherzer said of his outing. “You don’t pitch for a couple weeks, the command’s kind of off. I kind of anticipated that coming in, just trying to figure out what I was going to be able to execute today.”

AD
AD

Scherzer said he felt okay after the game but because this was about seeing how he would recover from the inflamed bursa under his shoulder blade he wouldn’t know anything until Friday.

Stevenson, meanwhile, worked an 11-pitch at-bat that ended with a popup but seemed to jar Rockies starter Jeff Hoffman from his flow. After a single and a walk, Anthony Rendon evened the score with a three-run blast into the left-center bullpen.

To protect the tie, Martinez called on Matt Grace. Since 2015, the left-hander was the only pitcher to have faced at least 300 left-handed hitters without allowing a home run. Four batters later, lefty Ryan McMahon hit a two-run home run.

AD

After the Nationals took the lead in the sixth, on a double from Gerardo Parra and a single from Trea Turner, the Rockies put two on with two out in the seventh, but lefty Tony Sipp entered and escaped the jam. Matt Adams added insurance with a solo homer, which they needed when Sipp allowed a home run to Murphy in the eighth. It all seemed okay until the ninth.

The Nationals’ offense looked like it had done enough. The bullpen proved otherwise.

AD
AD