The Washington Nationals bullpen failed late again as Wander Suero served up a two-out RBI double in the ninth inning, and despite loading the bases with one out, the Nats couldn’t tie the game against old friend Felipe Vazquez.
Max Scherzer was wobbly early, although he induced what looked like a double play ball off the bat of Francisco Cervelli that would have ended the first inning if Anthony Rendon hadn’t juggled it. Two runs scored shortly after that when Pittsburgh Pirates cleanup man Josh Bell hammered a two-out double and then scored on a hit by Colin Moran. Bell and Moran tortured the Nats all series, as did center fielder Starling Marte with his defense.
Adam Eaton and Howie Kendrick teamed up again to get one run back, then both scored in the third inning on RBI knocks by Rendon and Juan Soto. Unfortunately, Bell hit another two-out RBI double in the third.
The game stayed deadlocked at 3–3 until two outs after Scherzer exited the game. With a chance to send the Nats into the bottom of the ninth still tied, Suero got to two strikes on some guy named Jason Martin (seriously, who is he?) before coughing up a flyball over Soto’s head. Soto might have had a chance to catch it, but he appeared to slow up upon seeing Michael A. Taylor streaking over from center field. The ball fell safely beyond the reach of either outfielder, bringing home…you guessed it…Josh Bell.
Howie Kendrick stared at a full-count fastball from Vazquez for strike three with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Then Rendon hit a weak pop fly to end it.
The bullpen just keeps killing the 2019 Nationals. With presumptive setup man Trevor Rosenthal unusable in anything but mop-up duty, the Nats have turned to Kyle Barraclough, Justin Miller, Tony Sipp, and most recently Wander Suero to form a bridge to Sean Doolittle. None have managed to do the job. Suero pitched well yesterday to get a 1-2-3 inning, but pitching for a second day, he struggled and walked the leadoff man Bell. As anyone who is a baseball fan knows, walking the leadoff man is something a high-leverage reliever simply cannot do without it coming back to bite him.
Scherzer didn’t have his best stuff today, and he made some poor pitches to Bell and Moran in the early going. But thanks to the Pirates’ aggressive approach at the plate and Scherzer’s veteran toughness, he was able to pitch efficiently enough to manage eight innings today. But when the Nats need to count on their starter to go seven or eight innings and then can’t rely on anyone but Doolittle to not immediately waste their effort, there’s practically no margin for error.
The Nats got quality starts from all three of their starters this series, and yet they dropped two of three. That can’t continue in a division as tough as the NL East.
Davey Martinez has had some suspect managing this series, this season, and in his brief managerial career. But today’s loss wasn’t on him. He pushed the right buttons by letting Scherzer go up to about 100 pitches, then bringing in the guy who has been his most trustworthy reliever not named Doolittle (who pitched the last two games in a row), then using Victor Robles as a pinch-hitter to lead off against Vazquez in the bottom of the ninth. What we saw today was the bullpen failing, yet again, to make a gem by one of the Nats’ prized starters count for anything.
The Nats are 7 and 7.