Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Nationals News

After Stras gem, bullpen seals shutout of Mets

Starter K's 9 before relievers right ship to spoil rivals' home opener
@JamalCollier
April 4, 2019

NEW YORK -- Not much has come easily for the Nationals at the start of the season. They were unable to score first in any of their first five games. And navigating the final outs of those games was a challenge for manager Dave Martinez -- especially in the eighth

NEW YORK -- Not much has come easily for the Nationals at the start of the season.

They were unable to score first in any of their first five games. And navigating the final outs of those games was a challenge for manager Dave Martinez -- especially in the eighth inning, during which Nats relievers had been tagged for 14 runs. Even the club's first two victories required a walk-off in the ninth inning.

But Thursday afternoon went much more smoothly. The Nationals jumped out to an early lead, rode a spectacular pitching performance from Stephen Strasburg, and their bullpen shut the door late, leading to a 4-0 victory to spoil the Mets’ home opener at Citi Field.

“The first two victories were a little tougher at the end,” Victor Robles -- who launched a solo homer off Noah Syndergaard in the sixth inning for the Nats' first hit -- said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But this team has all the tools to put together some good wins, and today was showing exactly how that can be. It definitely felt good to get this one under our belt.”

Strasburg was brilliant in his second start of the season, holding the Mets without a hit until a Wilson Ramos single to start the fifth and limiting New York to just three hits and a walk with nine strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. But when Strasburg gave up back-to-back singles with two outs in the seventh inning, having thrown 108 pitches, Martinez decided not to push him any further. The skipper turned it over to the bullpen, which entered the day with the highest collective ERA in the Majors, an unsightly 11.02.

First, Martinez turned to Matt Grace, who has now appeared in five of the Nationals’ six games. But Grace responded and struck out pinch-hitter J.D. Davis to protect the lead in the seventh.

“Like I’ve said before, if we're going to do this, I've got to trust the bullpen to get the job done,” Martinez said. “And they got it done.”

The eighth inning also went much more smoothly on Thursday, thanks to the combined efforts of Justin Miller and Tony Sipp. Miller had thrown 25 pitches Wednesday, but he returned to the mound to strike out a pair of batters, with a walk to Brandon Nimmo in between, which set up a matchup between Sipp and Robinson Cano.

Cano entered the game 8-for-23 with three home runs in his career against Sipp, and 1-for-2 already this season -- numbers Sipp said he was well aware of when Cano stepped into the box. And yet Sipp fired three consecutive strikes, and Cano watched them all go past for a strikeout.

“He’s been aggressive early sometimes,” Sipp said. “Sometimes he takes. He mixes it up. I don’t know what today was. But I’ll take it every time if he wants to let me just do my job out there.”

Sean Doolittle then worked around a one-out single in the ninth to secure the shutout. His strikeout of Michael Conforto to lead off the inning gave Nats pitching 14 strikeouts on the day.

Now, the Nationals can head into an off-day Friday winners of three of their past four games after starting the season 0-2. There are still some early-season concerns to iron out in their bullpen, and although he was satisfied Thursday, Martinez wants his club playing much cleaner, fundamental baseball. But the Nats showed glimpses of what they are capable of in this win, which came much easier than the start of the season.

“It’s easy to kind of nitpick, and obviously [the bullpen] hasn’t started the way that they hoped, but it’s important to practice patience,” Strasburg said. “That’s the biggest thing. We know what we got in here, and I think you watch those games and it’s crazy some of the things that were going on. But that’s baseball. So that’s not sustainable either.”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.