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Dusty willing to flip flop 'Doooooooo,' Kintzler

Pitching Doolittle in 8th, righty in 9th backfires this time, but Nats prevail
MLB.com @JamalCollier

HOUSTON -- Since the Nationals made the additions to their bullpen before the non-waiver Trade Deadline last month, manager Dusty Baker has maintained he would use his new relievers late in the game based on matchups.

During the past few weeks, however, left-hander Sean Doolittle had emerged as the de-facto closer. He performed well in the role, too, converting all 12 of his save chances since joining the Nationals, while right-handers Ryan Madson (before he went on the DL) and Brandon Kintzler settled in as his setup men. It had proved to be a winning formula for Washington and the team had not blown a save since July 3.

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HOUSTON -- Since the Nationals made the additions to their bullpen before the non-waiver Trade Deadline last month, manager Dusty Baker has maintained he would use his new relievers late in the game based on matchups.

During the past few weeks, however, left-hander Sean Doolittle had emerged as the de-facto closer. He performed well in the role, too, converting all 12 of his save chances since joining the Nationals, while right-handers Ryan Madson (before he went on the DL) and Brandon Kintzler settled in as his setup men. It had proved to be a winning formula for Washington and the team had not blown a save since July 3.

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But Baker deviated from that formula during the Nationals' 5-4 victory over the Astros in 11 innings on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park. With a three-run lead headed into the eighth inning, and a pair of lefties and the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran due up for Houston, Baker called on Doolittle ("Doooooooo" for Players Weekend) to pitch the eighth. And with righties due up in the ninth, Kintzler would get the save chance.

The move backfired as the Astros scored a run off Doolittle in the eighth and a pair of runs in the ninth against Kintzler to send the game into extra innings.

Video: WSH@HOU: McCann plates Beltran with a single to left

"We thought about it and I liked the matchup," Baker said. "Just didn't work. [The eighth] was the inning of decision as far as I was concerned."

Baker called to the bullpen and talked to Doolittle, and he was on board. So was Kintzler, who posted 28 saves with the Twins before coming to Washington and was comfortable pitching the ninth. He said his sinker just was not effective Thursday.

"I'm fine with facing whoever," Kintzler said. "I understand the trend to match up with Doolittle and then me with lefties and righties. I'll face whoever really."

Video: WSH@HOU: Gurriel laces game-tying RBI double to left

Doolittle has been lights-out against lefties this season and they entered the game batting just 4-for-33 against him with one extra-base hit. Kintzler has actually been a little better against lefties (.568 OPS) than righties (.636 OPS), but both pitchers are comfortable facing hitters from either side of the plate.

But Baker felt that the game hinged on the Astros' powerful lefties in the eighth inning and decided to use his best relief pitcher against them. It is perhaps a less-extreme version of the strategy that has become popular in the postseason recently, with teams deploying relief aces to get out of jams or to face the heart of the order before the ninth inning.

This was not the heart of the order, but it did represent that Baker, who often draws criticism for sticking to old-school thinking, can be willing to deviate from traditional strategy. And if the situation arises again, Baker said he would do something similar.

"Some things just don't work. You can pencil them out, but the other team has some say about it," Baker said. "If we had to do it again, we thought that was the right move."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler