String of bad luck stings Grilli in bumpy ninth

Gonzalez sticking with strategy of using Vizcaino to record toughest outs

April 5th, 2016

ATLANTA -- Everything seemed to be unfolding exactly how Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez envisioned when Arodys Vizcaino completed a scoreless eighth inning against the heart of the Nationals order on Monday at Turner Field. Had Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman been due up the following inning, Vizcaino would have assumed the traditional ninth-inning responsibilities of a closer.

Unfortunately for Gonzalez, his decision to utilize his best reliever in an eighth-inning, high-leverage situation simply provided him the reminder that there are still three more outs to record in the ninth. Jason Grilli might have recorded these outs in successful fashion had he not encountered a rash of bad luck. But regardless, Gonzalez's acceptance of a new-school bullpen approach went for naught as the Nationals tallied a ninth-inning run against Grilli and then claimed a 4-3, 10-inning win in front of a sold-out Opening Day crowd at Turner Field.

"Whether it's the eighth inning or ninth inning, [Vizcaino] is going to face the tough part of the order," Gonzalez said. "Today, it just so happened to be the eighth inning. We've got to think outside the box a little bit. Today, it kind of materialized."

It materialized up until the point that Grilli was saddled with misfortune, as he made his first appearance since rupturing his left Achilles tendon on July 11. This was supposed to be a memorable event for the 39-year-old reliever who successfully proved his doubters wrong when he vowed to be ready by Opening Day. But instead, it was a frustrating experience marred by misfortune.

Grilli committed the cardinal sin of jeopardizing a one-run ninth-inning lead with a leadoff walk to Jayson Werth. Wilson Ramos followed by taking advantage of a defensive alignment that left the right side of the field unguarded as his single traveled to right field. Danny Espinosa then fouled two bunt attempts foul before placing one fair that backspun and fell dead in no man's land near the first-base line.

"A leadoff walk is not very good, especially with a one-run lead," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Ramos hit the hole when we shifted. The [Espinosa] bunt was really almost too good of a pitch. He bunted it so poorly that it backed up on us. Those things happen. But we struck out Stephen Drew and got a weak fly ball and had a chance to get out of it without giving up the run. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out."

After Espinosa's sacrifice bunt attempt loaded the bases with none out, Grilli followed the Drew strikeout by getting Michael Taylor to hit a fly ball that a charging Ender Inciarte snared in center field before making an accurate throw that would have ended the game had Pierzynski been able to secure the low throw and tag Werth before he crossed the plate with a tying run.

"It's one of those plays where you're trying to catch it, but you just don't want it to go through your legs," Pierzynski said. "I knew I didn't have it right away. I just didn't know where the ball was. I was hoping I could fool the umpire because [Werth] never got to the plate."