WASHINGTON -- Just as every move manager Dave Martinez made with his bullpen the night before worked out expertly -- sealing a win in a one-run game without two of his most reliable relievers -- every button he pressed to try and seal Saturday’s game backfired.
The Nationals’ bullpen imploded once again, blowing a four-run lead in the seventh and a one-run advantage in the eighth, leading to a deflating 13-9 defeat to the Braves at Nationals Park. The loss snapped Washington's season-high five-game winning streak and thwarted Washington’s attempt to get back to .500 for the first time since April 23.
The bullpen was shorthanded once again, leaving Martinez’s options limited to try and navigate through the final nine outs, despite holding a four-run lead. Wander Suero and Javy Guerra had both pitched in three straight games and Sean Doolittle was being saved for the ninth inning.
Leading 8-4 entering the seventh, Martinez turned to Rosenthal, one day after Rosenthal recorded a key out in the eighth inning of Friday’s 4-3 win. Martinez hoped that would be a turning point for the righty, whom the club signed last offseason with hopes that he could be its primary setup man in front of Doolittle. Martinez even spoke prior to the game about the idea that Rosenthal could certainly earn his way back into regular appearances in those high-leverage roles.
But Rosenthal's outing on Saturday was the kind of disaster that required him to spend a month on a Minor League rehab assignment working on his mechanics. He faced three batters and walked all of them, the last on four pitches.
“Yesterday, he seemed a little bit poised, but today, he seemed antsy out there,” Martinez said.
After Rosenthal loaded the bases, Martinez called on Rainey, but Rainey walked in a run and surrendered a three-run double to Freddie Freeman, and just like that, the Nats' four-run lead had evaporated and Atlanta had tied the game.
“It stinks, especially a game like tonight where we're rolling and have a chance to win that game,” Rosenthal said. “But I’m not trying to just dwell on it, I guess. Come back tomorrow, realize there's an adjustment I can make, and I think it'll make a big difference to get me back to where I want to be.”
Even after Rosenthal’s poor outing, the Nats took the lead in the eighth, when Anthony Rendon scored on a wild pitch from A.J. Minter. That left it to Ross to try and get the ball to Doolittle, but Ross gave up five hits and four runs, the biggest blow being a three-run homer by Dansby Swanson to put Atlanta in front for good.
“Just got hurt on a breaking ball that didn’t get out of the zone with two strikes,” Ross said. “You’d like to execute below the zone, obviously, and he kind of made me pay for it.”
This Nationals' bullpen had been much improved of late during the club's recent charge back into postseason contention. Dating back to May 31, the Nats own the fourth-best relievers’ ERA in the National League, at 2.75. One night should not completely erase that good fortune, but it also served as a painful reminder of the obstacles that Martinez must navigate each night -- a bullpen with the potential to deliver a clunker like Saturday at any point.
“For the last five, six, seven weeks, they've been good,” Martinez said. “Today is one game, one loss. We have a chance to come back tomorrow and win the series.”