One theme that helped the Nationals stay in, and then eventually win, the series against the Minnesota Twins was the bullpen getting the job done.
In Game 1 and Game 3, the Nationals went to their bullpen 13 separate times.
On Saturday, the Nationals used everyone in the bullpen but Xavier Cedeno. After Gio Gonzalez pitched through six innings, manager Davey Johnson employed, in order, Fernando Abad, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Erik Davis, Ian Krol and Craig Stammen.
The bullpen pitched five innings in that game and allowed a late Ryan Doumit RBI single in the 11th inning, which turned into a tough 4-3 setback.
In Sunday’s doubleheader finale, Nathan Karns struggled to finish three innings. Stammen, almost exactly 24 hours later, came back in and pitched two scoreless frames to calm the game down. The Nationals were reeling after the Twins took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the third.
The offense was unable to deliver the big hit Saturday after the seventh inning. But Sunday night, the Nationals methodically chipped away, scoring single runs in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings to come back and take the lead, 5-4.
This time, the bend-but-don’t-break bullpen was rewarded. Just like on Saturday, Johnson employed several relievers. Stammen, Davis, Abad, Clippard, Storen and Soriano pitched the fourth through ninth frames. Despite a few jams, they got through with great defense and the right pitch at the right time.
Clippard notched the win, and Soriano grabbed his 16th save as the Nationals completed the doubleheader sweep, 5-4. The Nationals won the opener 7-0.
Ian Desmond watches the pitchers work every pitch and every inning from his spot at shortstop. He’s a part of an that infield made some huge plays Sunday, from a Ryan Zimmerman barehanded play to an Anthony Rendon leaping catch to an Adam LaRoche unassisted double play.
He knows the offense was critical to the win, but it all starts in the top of each inning when they keep the opponent off the board. After Karns’ tough go, the bullpen gave the team a shot with some timely pitches.
“You know, when we get our pitching and defense good, the bats will come,” Desmond said. “Hitting is always up and down. But pitching and defense have to be there for us to be able to win the games that we expect ourselves to. We are taking steps in the right direction, and today was a huge step.”