LOS ANGELES -- It was not until Reynaldo López cracked for a run in the fifth inning of Tuesday's National League Division Series Game 4 that the Nationals' bullpen became anything but pristine this October. Until that point, Nationals relievers had opened the postseason with 13 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, holding the Dodgers to a .128 batting average.
Two of Washington's sturdiest relievers during the regular season, Blake Treinen and Sammy Solís, had combined for 5 1/3 of those innings -- at times seeming unhittable. But that veneer crumbled Tuesday when, as lefty-slayer Solis watched from the bullpen, left-hander Chase Utley beat Treinen for the go-ahead single in the Nats' 6-5 loss to the Dodgers.
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That sent the series back to Washington for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET/5 PT, FS1).
"Our guys have done a phenomenal job, and it's just unfortunate," Treinen said. "But they made some good swings today. They grinded it out. They got the win. Unfortunately, I was the one on the mound when it happened."
Under different circumstances, Treinen might not have been the one on the mound to plunk Andrew Toles with two outs in the eighth inning, then to allow an Andre Ethier single to bring up Utley. Though Treinen's upper-90s sinker made him a weapon against left-handed hitters all summer, his numbers can't compare to those of Solis, who held lefties to a .200/.273/.283 slash line.
Of course, this wasn't the regular season. This was the fourth game of an NLDS in which Solis had already pitched during Games 1, 2 and 3. Though Nationals manager Dusty Baker began warming Solis in a tie game in the eighth inning, he did not want to use him unless absolutely necessary. Nor did he want Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to counter with a right-handed pinch-hitter, Howie Kendrick, who was 2-for-8 over the series' first three games.
"We were trying to stay away from Howie Kendrick because he's been hitting lights-out," Baker said. "I mean, he's been hitting the ball hard. So you've got to pick your poison. It didn't work."
"You're in that situation a lot over the course of a season," Utley said. "You obviously try to keep it simple, and try to put a good at-bat together. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. Today, it did."
Perhaps Solis, who entered anyway to record the inning's final out, might have made a difference. Perhaps not. In either event, the Nationals and their bullpen now have an off-day to regroup, before Game 5 on Thursday.
Even with Max Scherzer starting that game, the Nationals will have their bullpen on high alert. Through four games, Washington's relievers have pitched more innings (17 2/3) than its starters (17 1/3), a testament to how teams throughout baseball are using their bullpens this October.
With so many off-days during the postseason, overwork becomes a foreign concept. So the Nationals can take comfort in knowing that, Tuesday's blip aside, a bullpen that ranked second in ERA during the regular season will be rested and ready for whatever is needed.
"Moving forward, I'm fully confident in my team," Treinen said. "We'll just continue to make pitches, and maybe it will fall our way next time."