Facing a 5-0 deficit in the fourth inning might have many teams thinking about how they can get ready for the final game of the series and just try to win two out of three. Last season, down 5-0 that late in the game might have been too much to overcome for the Nationals.
But eight games into the season, the Nationals now have five comeback wins. They have outscored opponents 23-6 from the seventh inning on. They have been able to get clutch hitting in the late going to turn likely defeats into surprising wins.
The offense deserves credit, but so does the bullpen. On Wednesday, five Nationals relievers held the Marlins to two runs in the final seven innings. The reason: Each pitcher in the bullpen is good at their role and some of them can be used in several situations.
Right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Ross Detwiler, who have also been starters in their careers, can be the long men when the Nationals get in early trouble, as they did Wednesday on a rare off-night for Jordan Zimmermann.
“I think our bullpen is very versatile,” Stammen said. “We have a couple guys that can go long. We got ... basically four closers that can come in with (Aaron) Barrett, (Drew) Storen, (Tyler) Clippard and (Rafael) Soriano and pitch one inning at a time and shut guys down and strike people out. I think we have a got a good bullpen. Hopefully, we will pitch well the rest of the year.”
Right-fielder Jayson Werth, who crushed to dramatic go-ahead grand slam in the eighth that gave the Nationals a 10-7 lead, respects the job Stammen does out of the ‘pen.
“He kind of goes unseen around here,” Werth said. “He does good work. He does a good job for us. He is a pillar in that bullpen. He kind of wears many hats and handles many different roles. So he is a guy we can lean on in times like that.”
Stammen knows comeback wins like Wednesday, when the Nationals were down 5-0 early and rallied to score 10 of the next 12 runs and win, don’t happen very often. There will be times when it doesn’t work out.
“It will probably happen at some point this year,” Stammen said. “My job, Ross’ job, is keep it as competitive as we can keep it. You never know, like (Wednesday) we came back and ended up winning the game. It doesn’t always happen that way. You always got to keep fighting, you never know what might happen at the end of the game.”
Stammen and Detwiler combined for 4 1/3 innings, allowing three hits, no runs and two walks while striking out four. Do the bullpen pitchers realize they are coming back for wins in almost every game?
“I don’t think we even realize that they are all comeback wins,” Stammen said. “We are just trying to win the game. I know we are fighting the whole game. I know when they walked (Anthony) Rendon to get to J-Dub (Werth), it kind of fired him up a little bit. So it was kind of fun for the whole team to celebrate him getting that home run.”
Did Stammen realize that he might have to go more than just a few innings when Zimmermann was pulled after recording only five outs?
“Well, it is my ERA, my stats on the scoreboard,” Stammen reasoned. “So I don’t want them to look bad, either. So when I go out there, I am pitching like it is the ninth inning and it is a save situation no matter when I go out there. That is the mindset I have. I think that is the only way you can pitch and have success.”