Bryce Harper Bails Out the Washington Nationals Bullpen

The Washington Nationals bullpen is in total disarray, and Sunday’s game against Philadelphia was no exception. But to the rescue comes the offense with Bryce Harper’s three-run bomb saving the day.

Gio Gonzalez was cruising, having thrown only 93 pitches through seven strong innings. Entering the eighth, Gio had allowed only one run, a lead-off home run by Cesar Hernandez in the top of the first, and three hits. If the Washington Nationals bullpen was in order, Gonzalez would have been cheering from the dugout as the final six outs were recorded. But on Sunday, because Washington’s bullpen is struggling, manager Dusty Baker sent his lefty back out to the mound for the eighth with the Nats leading 3-1.

The inning started innocently enough with a Michael Saunders ground out to second. Then after getting ahead of Cesar Hernandez with one ball and two strikes, Gio hung a curve ball which Hernandez slapped up the middle for a single. On a one-ball, one-strike pitch to Daniel Nava, Gonzalez gave up a liner to left which eluded Jayson Werth and allowed Hernandez to score from first.

Now with the score 3-2, the Nationals went to their bullpen. Coming into the game, the Washington Nationals bullpen had an ERA of 6.29 with a 1-3 record. They had two blown saves out of five opportunities and 10 home runs allowed in 34 1/3 innings.

Koda Glover entered the game with a 3.60 ERA and a 0-1 record, having pitched in six games. He immediately got ahead of Maikel Franco with no balls and two strikes before uncorking a wild pitch allowing the tying run to move to third base. After striking out Franco, Glover surrendered a game-tying single to Tommy Joseph and Gonzalez was tagged with a no decision. A strikeout of Cameron Rupp ended the inning.

The Top of the Ninth

The Nats went one, two, three in the bottom of the eighth and brought their closer Blake Treinen into the game to pitch the ninth with the score tied at three. Treinen entered the game with a 5.06 ERA, having saved three out of four games, all in the first week of the season.

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Blake immediately went to three balls, no strikes on Aaron Altherr, a .182 hitter. After battling back to a full count, Treinen gave up a shot off the wall in right center for a lead-off double. Odubel Herrera moved Altherr to third with a swinging bunt back to the pitcher before Freddy Galvis scored Altherr on a fielder’s choice grounder to second. With two outs, Treinen surrendered a single and a walk to load the bases.

Next, Dusty Baker called in Shawn Kelly from the bullpen. Kelly entered with a 7.20 ERA with a 1-0 record in five games. In five innings of work, Kelly had given up three home runs. With the bases loaded he induced a grounder to third from Maikel Franco, finally ending the top of the ninth. The Nats’ three closer candidates combined pitched 1 2/3 innings, surrendering one run on three hits, a walk and a wild pitch. The score went from 3-2 in favor of the Nationals to 4-3 for Philadelphia while the potential closers pitched.

The Bottom of the Ninth

Fortunately for Washington, Adam Eaton singled following a Chris Heisey walk in the bottom of the ninth. Two on, two out and Bryce Harper got a chance to be the hero. With the Nationals down to their last out and last strike, Harper hammered a three-ball, two-strike pitch 424 feet to dead center field for his second home run of the game. The bullpen got credit for another win after blowing another lead in 2017, as the Nats downed the Phillies 6-4.

The Washington Nationals have an explosive offense and excellent starting pitching, but their bullpen is proving to be a problem nearly every day. When a team does not have a legitimate closer, it doesn’t have a settled or effective bullpen. With an off day on Monday, the Nationals brain trust needs to address an issue they failed to address in the offseason. If they don’t solve the bullpen problem soon, they may waste a roster with the assets otherwise necessary to contend for a title.

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