WASHINGTON -- First came the rain. Then came the Nationals.The Brewers' bullpen let an eighth-inning lead slip away in Saturday's 5-4 loss at soggy Nationals Park, where Washington rallied after a rain delay of nearly two hours to score four runs -- all with two outs -- against a Brewers
WASHINGTON -- First came the rain. Then came the Nationals.
The Brewers' bullpen let an eighth-inning lead slip away in Saturday's 5-4 loss at soggy Nationals Park, where Washington rallied after a rain delay of nearly two hours to score four runs -- all with two outs -- against a Brewers bullpen that was without relief ace Josh Hader.
September callup Tyler Saladino announced his return with a pinch-hit solo home run in the ninth to make it a one-run game, but the Nationals held on to deny Milwaukee the top spot in the National League Wild Card standings after the Cardinals lost at home to the Reds earlier Saturday night.
The Brewers remained in the second Wild Card spot, one-half game behind the Cardinals, with the D-backs and Dodgers tied atop the NL West and within 1 1/2 games of the Brewers in the Wild Card race.
"They put on good at-bats … and everything just fell apart," said Joakim Soria, who was on the mound when the Nationals launched their go-ahead rally. "This is a tough loss for us, especially this late in the night. It hurt us a little bit. But we have to come back and win the next day."
Chase Anderson kept the ball in the yard for five effective innings before Brewers manager Craig Counsell turned the game over to his expanded bullpen, and Jonathan Schoop, Christian Yelich and Manny Pina drove in a run apiece for a 3-1 lead before the rains came amid a MIlwaukee rally in the top of the eighth.
The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam after the delay thanks to first baseman Ryan Zimmerman's terrific over-the-shoulder catch in foul ground, then flipped the script on the Brewers in the bottom of the inning. Soria recorded the first two outs of the inning but couldn't get out No. 3. He found trouble after Adam Eaton doubled to cap a nine-pitch at-bat. Eaton scored on Trea Turner's bloop RBI single.
That cut the Brewers' lead to 3-2 and brought left-handed-hitting Bryce Harper to the plate -- an obvious spot for Hader if he was available. But Hader, who pitched Wednesday and Thursday in Cincinnati, never stirred in the Brewers bullpen, even as Soria suddenly lost the strike zone and walked Harper and Anthony Rendon on six pitches apiece to load the bases for another dangerous lefty, Juan Soto.
Counsell called for Dan Jennings, pitching for the third straight day. Soto grounded a two-run single to center field for a 4-3 Nationals lead.
Jordan Lyles took over for Jennings and threw a critical run-scoring wild pitch to make it 5-3.
Counsell confirmed that Hader was unavailable after throwing 24 pitches in an ineffective two-thirds-inning stint in Wednesday's wild win against the Reds, then 10 pitches the next day for a clean save that pushed his total to 67 innings -- tied for ninth among Major League relievers -- in 45 appearances this season.
"How we've used Josh, he was unavailable tonight," Counsell said. "Not hurt. Unavailable tonight. Josh is way up there in innings with relievers. He can't pitch every night. He's not going to pitch every night. We've got to get him proper rest to have him recover to pitch well the next time he pitches.
"That's how it has to be. That's how it's always going to be."
Soria and Jennings have been pushed as well; both were pitching for the fourth time in five games Saturday. Soria got extra work Saturday because he was warming up before the rain delay, then did it again more than two hours later.
But those veterans also have far more experience handling a reliever workload than Hader, who is in his first full season in the role.
"I was hoping to avoid Dan," Counsell said. "Soria's got two outs and nobody on, and we're looking pretty good. It just didn't work. …
"The game played out the way we wanted it to, really. Get the ball to Soria in the eighth and hopefully [Jeremy Jeffress] in the ninth. We're one out away from that coming true."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Ryan Braun's infield single in the top of the eighth inning gave the Brewers two runners aboard with one out, but when Nationals reliever Wander Suero slipped in the wet dirt around first base, it prompted the umpires to call for the tarp. Following a one-hour, 57-minute wait, the Brewers resumed their rally by loading the bases with two outs for Pina, who had already smacked a solo home run in the seventh inning in his first game back from being hit in the face by a pitch earlier in the week.
Pina's chance to extend the Brewers' lead was dashed by Zimmerman, who covered 85 feet, according to Statcast™, to make a highlight reel catch that ended the half-inning. The Nationals then mounted their winning rally.
"You're hoping it's fair first. Then you realize it's foul, but I didn't think [Zimmerman] would get to it," Counsell said. "It was a very nice play."
HE SAID IT
"They have been used a lot this year, and that's just how baseball has gone. Matchups are huge in today's game. Analytics are part of it, as you guys know. But shoot, this was a tough game tonight. We sat here for almost two hours, then tried to go back out there and get fired up. But we're going to be good. Our bullpen has picked us up as starters a lot this year." -- Anderson, talking about the bullpen taking over after he threw 79 pitches in five innings
With Giovany Gonzalez in the fold and Zach Davies eligible to return from a Minor League option on Sunday, the Brewers could have shuffled their pitching plans for the rubber game. But they opted to stick with right-hander Junior Guerra, who is coming off a loss to the Reds in which he surrendered six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings and has been charged with 14 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings over his last three starts. Rookie righty Jefry Rodriguez starts the 12:35 p.m. CT game for Washington.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.