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Nats' 'pen work vs. Phils shows depth, options

Relievers combine for 5 2/3 strong innings as Washington eyes postseason
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Pitching reigns in the postseason. There's no such thing as having too much of it. As the Nationals close in on a second straight National League East title, manager Dusty Baker will need to figure out how his bullpen pieces fall into place.

Baker was given some help in that task despite the Nationals losing Saturday evening's contest to the Phillies, 5-4, at Nationals Park. Before Washington saw its magic number drop to two once the Braves walked off to beat the Marlins in Atlanta, Baker watched a group of relievers hold the Phillies at bay and give his team a shot at a comeback win.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- Pitching reigns in the postseason. There's no such thing as having too much of it. As the Nationals close in on a second straight National League East title, manager Dusty Baker will need to figure out how his bullpen pieces fall into place.

Baker was given some help in that task despite the Nationals losing Saturday evening's contest to the Phillies, 5-4, at Nationals Park. Before Washington saw its magic number drop to two once the Braves walked off to beat the Marlins in Atlanta, Baker watched a group of relievers hold the Phillies at bay and give his team a shot at a comeback win.

Full Game Coverage

Washington acquired relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the A's and Brandon Kintzler from the Twins prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But Baker wanted to refrain from using his top relief options on Saturday, if possible.

The Nationals' new "Big Three" had been used heavily in recent days, presenting the perfect opportunity for the remainder of relievers to showcase their talents. With a combined 5 2/3 scoreless frames, they came through.

Right-hander A.J. Cole, whom Baker was considering starting Sunday's series finale before opting for Stephen Strasburg on regular rest, allowed one hit over a pair of stifling innings while throwing out of the bullpen for the first time this year.

Lefty Sammy Solis relieved starter Edwin Jackson, striking out two batters without allowing a hit in 1 2/3 innings of work. The 29-year-old struggled early on in the year, but has given up just two earned runs in his past 10 appearances.

Video: PHI@WSH: Solis fans Rupp to end the top of the 7th

"[The] bullpen comes in, they did a hell of a job due to the situation," Jackson said. "[That] allows us to be able to come back in the game."

Joe Blanton struck out two of the three batters he faced, and after Oliver Perez came in for the ninth and allowed a single to Nick Williams following a Freddy Galvis lineout, Matt Albers entered and quickly got rookie slugger Rhys Hoskins to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Albers, in the midst of one of his best seasons in his 12-year career, has not allowed a run in 14 consecutive innings dating back to Aug. 5. He's permitted only three hits during that span.

The bullpen's "next man up" mentality is what enabled the Nationals to have the chance to tie the game with a base hit in the ninth inning on Saturday. It's also what could prove to be a difference-maker for Washington come postseason time.

"You see how bullpens are used nowadays," Albers said. "Maybe the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, when I go in now, that could be the key point, game-changing even. You have a three-run game in the ninth or a one-run game with two guys on in the fifth or sixth, that's a huge spot, and you can get out of it."

Perhaps premier starters Max Scherzer or Strasburg will replicate their regular-season success when the games matter most, but with the depth Baker now has in his bullpen, that may not be entirely necessary for the club to succeed.

"We'll step in when guys need days off. … We can step in and we don't miss a beat," Albers said. "We're all veteran guys who just have the same goal: we want to win."

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @OMacklinMLB.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals, A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis