ATLANTA -- Sean Doolittle had not pitched in a game for more than a week. The night prior he was left standing on the bullpen mound in left field while the Braves celebrated a walk-off, ninth-inning victory. So, coming into Saturday night’s game at SunTrust Park, Doolittle was prepared to give the Nationals more than one inning if the game was on the line.
“I don’t know if tonight was necessarily a must-win game,” Doolittle said following his first five-out save of the season, which sealed the Nationals’ 5-3 victory over the Braves. “But it was definitely a big win for us. It was kind of all hands on deck.”
Indeed, the Nationals came away with a victory after their beleaguered bullpen recorded the final 12 outs of the game without a blemish. The trio of Wander Suero, Fernando Rodney and Doolittle combined to silence the crowd of 42,467 fans at SunTrust Park, the second-largest in the park’s history. They cut Atlanta’s lead in the National League East down to 5 1/2 games and ensure the Nationals will leave this four-game weekend series with no worse than a series split.
After a two-run homer from Brian McCann chased Aníbal Sánchez with nobody out in the sixth inning, the Nats’ bullpen was tasked with perhaps their biggest task of the season, protecting a tight lead on the road against a division opponent, and all three relievers extended beyond their usual limits to do so.
First, manager Dave Martinez called upon Suero, one of the Nationals’ most enigmatic relievers, pitching for the second night in a row, where he has usually struggled. He responded by tossing a pair of scoreless innings, getting through the sixth and seventh innings -- his first two-inning outing since June 1 -- on 32 pitches.
“I told him I was ready for whenever he needed me,” Suero said through an interpreter.
Once Martinez turned to Suero so early in the game, he knew it meant he would have to use Doolittle beyond a one-inning save. But he did not want to commit to Doolittle for a full two innings, so he turned next to Rodney, even though he had thrown 32 pitches the night prior before eventually yielding a walk-off hit to Josh Donaldson. Martinez said Rodney was adamant about pitching again in this game to make up for it, and after giving up a leadoff single, he recorded a key out to help bridge the gap to Doolittle.
“Hey, vacation over, Doo,” Martinez said with a laugh after the game.
A night after his bullpen decisions raised questions, Martinez was much more relaxed and even a bit emotional post-game when talking about the effort from his team to bounce back with a win.
“I am really proud of him though,” Martinez said. “He got five outs. That was awesome.”