How might Nats' bullpen line up behind Stras?

October 4th, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- The Nationals’ bullpen has been a cause for concern all season, a trend that continued in Thursday night’s 6-0 loss to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium.

Left-hander Patrick Corbin did his part by holding the Dodgers to two runs (one earned) over six innings in his postseason debut, but Washington’s relievers later faltered, as , and combined to give up four runs over two innings to put the game out of reach.

The fallibility of the bullpen, which posted the second worst ERA in the Majors during the regular season, will loom large over this best-of-five series and likely influence how Nationals manager Dave Martínez utilizes his pitching staff in tonight's Game 2.

Right-hander Stephen Strasburg will start for the Nationals, but there is some uncertainty as to how his arm will bounce back after he threw 34 pitches over three scoreless innings in the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday. Martínez likened Strasburg’s first career relief appearance to a typical between-starts bullpen, though the stress of that outing exceeded his usual side sessions.

“It was definitely the most adrenaline I've ever had for a bullpen,” Strasburg said Thursday.

If Strasburg can't pitch deep into the game, the Nationals will likely get creative with their pitching to minimize the exposure to their middle relievers.

The Nats could opt to deploy Aníbal Sánchez, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 25 but remains stretched out to start. Sánchez could be used to piggyback off Strasburg, much like the Nationals did with Max Scherzer and Strasburg in their Wild Card Game victory over the Brewers.

Left-hander Sean Doolittle and righty Daniel Hudson, who have split closing duties, will also be rested, allowing Martínez to lean on them for multiple innings each, if needed. The club also knows it has an off-day ahead on Saturday before returning to Washington for Sunday's Game 3.

Thursday’s game got out of hand late while Doolittle and Hudson watched from the ‘pen. Rainey replaced Corbin to start the seventh and struck out A.J. Pollock to open the inning, but he was removed after walking David Freese and yielding a single to Justin Turner that put runners on the corners.

With no left-handed relief options outside of Doolittle, Martínez opted to bring in Rodney to face the left-handed-hitting Cody Bellinger, who struck out for the second out of the inning. Still, Rodney couldn’t escape unscathed, as he walked Chris Taylor and gave up a two-run single to Max Muncy, another lefty bat, that made it 4-0.

“In that situation, try to get a ground ball,” Rodney said. “I think [Muncy] saw something. It’s difficult in that situation. I feel good, man. I get an out, but then my command is not what I was hoping for. Everything that happened tonight, it’s part of the game. ... We pitched good, but weren’t able to keep the game close. They took advantage of that.”

Gavin Lux and Joc Pederson padded the Dodgers’ lead with a pair of solo homers off Strickland in the eighth. In 12 career postseason appearances, Strickland has given up eight home runs.