Matchups the key as bullpen lifts Nats over Padres

May 25th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- Speaking on Wednesday afternoon before the Nationals played the Padres, manager Dave Martinez summed up the back end of his bullpen.

“What I love about them is, they want the ball,” Martinez said. “They always want the ball.”

Soon enough, Martinez had to rely on his eager relievers. After starter Trevor Williams exited with two outs in the sixth inning and a runner on first, Washington’s skipper called on , and to maintain the Nationals’ two-run lead.

The trio combined for a scoreless relief performance in a 5-3 win over the Padres at Nationals Park.

“Shutdown,” said outfielder Alex Call. “It’s nice to see our guys taking care of business. Carl coming in, that fastball looks really good … Harvey doing Harvey things, and [Finnegan] leaving no doubt. Really good job by those guys, and love when we can get into situations to put those guys in like that.”

Martinez tabbed Edwards to face the bottom of the Padres order. He wrapped up the sixth inning by getting Rougned Odor to ground out to shortstop, then retired the first two batters of the seventh, including throwing up his arms to nab a screaming line drive up the middle by Ha-Seong Kim.

“We were just laughing,” said catcher Keibert Ruiz. “It was so scary to see his face. He didn’t think he was going to catch that.”

After Edwards allowed a single to No. 9 hitter Brett Sullivan, Martinez turned to Harvey to face the top of the Padres order. Rather than using his hurlers on an inning-by-inning basis, Martinez had mapped out which specific batters he wanted each reliever to face.

“Every series, I do my work before everybody comes in -- and I pick groups of guys based on information that I get on where guys, I feel, best match up late in games,” said Martinez. “That group of guys was where I really felt comfortable with Harvey, and then Finnegan behind him. ... It worked out really well.”

Martinez liked Harvey’s pitch mix against Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth, Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts. Harvey induced a groundout from Tatis to end the seventh, then delivered a 1-2-3 eighth inning with a groundout and back-to-back strikeouts.

“He can elevate his fastball, he’s got his splitter, he’s got the curveball, he could do a lot of different things,” said Martinez. “The biggest thing with that lineup is you’ve got to throw strikes, you’ve got to be around the plate. Especially with Soto and those guys. When Harvey’s pumping strikes, he’s tough.”

Harvey faced off against former teammate Soto in a four-pitch at-bat. He threw a curve and two splitters, then got Soto swinging at a 99.3 mph fastball.

“The way he takes pitches is unbelievable,” Harvey said of Soto. “He’s without a doubt one of the best hitters at just being able to see stuff down, knowing the zone, really. He knows it best. But I kind of threw him two pitches up, I just wanted to show him something down just to give him something to look at and then come back at him. It just happened to work out tonight.”

Finnegan picked up his 10th save of the season by retiring Nos. 5-7 hitters Matt Carpenter, Odor and Trent Grisham with a pair of pop ups and a strikeout. In his last five appearances, Finnegan has entered games in the sixth, eighth and ninth innings.

“When they get rolling, gosh, they’re one of the best bullpens in the league,” said Williams. “Guys aren’t married to their role. They’re willing to come into the game whenever Davey calls on them, and they’re successful in that.

“For guys to check their egos at the door and to say, ‘We’re calling on you to get outs right here, whether it’s the sixth or the ninth,’ has been huge. The starters appreciate that, and I’m sure the defense and offense does as well.”

The Nationals will look to take the finale on Thursday and head into a two-city road trip with a series victory.

“It’s fun,” said Harvey. “It’s really fun. Nights like this are the ones that we enjoy.”