ATLANTA -- Considering the state of their depleted bullpen, Nationals manager Dave Martinez and right-hander Tanner Roark had a conversation before the start of Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Braves about his availability to pitch if necessary. As long as it did not hinder his upcoming start this Wednesday, Roark
ATLANTA -- Considering the state of their depleted bullpen, Nationals manager Dave Martinez and right-hander Tanner Roark had a conversation before the start of Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Braves about his availability to pitch if necessary. As long as it did not hinder his upcoming start this Wednesday, Roark said he was available.
That moment arrived in the ninth inning of a tie game on Sunday, when Roark emerged from the bullpen to try and send the game into extras. Martinez was hoping for one scoreless inning from Roark before he turned to right-hander Wander Suero as the long reliever to pitch in extras. That need never arrived, however, as Roark served up a walk-off two-run homer to Charlie Culberson to send Atlanta to a 4-2 victory.
Washington dropped three out of four games during this weekend series at SunTrust Park and now trails the Braves by 1 1/2 games in the National League East.
"Atlanta is not gonna go away," Martinez said. "They're really good. They are. We just have to continue to play baseball. My concerns are the Washington Nationals. That's what I look at every day."
The Nationals asked for a lot from their bullpen the past two days starting with Saturday's 14-inning marathon. Then, they were forced into a bullpen day from the start Sunday when Jefry Rodriguez was thrust onto the mound in the first inning after Jeremy Hellickson's hamstring injury forced him to leave the game after retiring one batter. It was Rodriguez's Major League debut, just three days after making his last start in the Minors.
And Rodriguez, promoted before the game when left-hander Tim Collins landed on the DL, responded brilliantly -- with 4 2/3 scoreless innings on 63 pitches. No pitcher in Nationals history had thrown more than four innings in relief in his debut.
"Last night when they called me they let me know that I had to be ready for any situation in the game," Rodriguez said through an interpreter. "So I got that in my head last night, got mentally prepared, so when I was here today I was ready."
It continued a strong effort from the Nationals' bullpen, which tossed seven perfect innings in Saturday's victory and had not allowed a run Sunday until Dansby Swanson's solo home run off Shawn Kelley to tie the game in the seventh. The Nats' bullpen was taxed for 15 innings the past two games, but surrendered just three runs.
The bigger issue in this series was their inability to score runs against Braves pitching. Trea Turner hit a two-run homer in the third, but that was all the damage right-hander Anibal Sanchez allowed in seven innings.
"I think they have a great staff obviously," Turner said. "Look at all the numbers. I think everyone, every time I looked up, had a 2.00 ERA. So numbers have been great. But at the same time, I feel like we've missed a lot of pitches lately. I know I have. Me and [third baseman Anthony Rendon] talked about it. He feels the same way. I think it's a matter of not missing those pitches and continuing to compete."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Nationals' ninth-inning rally fizzled away quickly after a leadoff walk from Juan Soto and a bloop single from Rendon gave them a chance to take the lead. But Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino got Mark Reynolds to fly out to center field before he struck out both Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor.
HE SAID IT
"I expected maybe a couple innings, but he did really well. I'm really excited about our future with a guy like that. He went out there. He was poised. He pitched out of a couple innings where the balls got away from him a little bit, and he came back and threw strikes. Every inning I asked him, 'How you doing?' He said, 'I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine.'" -- Martinez, on Rodriguez
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Soto, the Nats' 19-year old rookie phenom, is not completely polished in left field on defense, and he allowed Swanson to take an extra base in the ninth inning on Sunday. Swanson's one-out hit against Roark fell in front of Soto, but he got to the ball slowly and did not hurry to throw it back to second base, so Swanson attempted to leg out a double. Soto's throw appeared to beat Swanson to the base, and initially he was called out before the Braves challenged. The call on the field was overturned when Swanson's hand slid in just before the tag from Wilmer Difo to put the go-ahead run on base. The next batter was Culberson, who launched the game-winning homer.
When he's not pinch-hitting and scoring the game-winning run, Max Scherzer is a two-time NL Pitcher of the month and winner of the past two Cy Young Awards. After an off-day Monday, Scherzer gets back on the mound when the Nationals return home Tuesday night against the Rays at Nationals Park. He will match up against right-hander Nathan Eovaldi; first pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.