ATLANTA - All the issues the Nationals had faced during their four-game skid, which included laboring starters and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door, almost completely vanished Sunday afternoon as the Nationals found a way to stop the Braves 3-2.
Stephen Strasburg pitched 7 2/3 innings, striking out a season-high 11 batters and allowing only two runs.
Koda Glover, who was going to close Friday night if the Nationals had a late lead, came in and notched a four-out save.
Strasburg came within one out of reaching eight innings in a game for the first time since mid-July last season.
With a wounded and tired bullpen, manager Dusty Baker was hoping Strasburg could do just that.
“We were hoping he’d go deep, deep, deep into the game, which he did,” Baker said. “We have our eye on our pitch count every inning. And then you start kind of averaging, ... ‘OK, at this rate he’ll go eight and if he has a short inning, he can go nine.’
“But he gave us all he had and we decided to go with him in the eighth because if you’re going to be a great pitcher, you don’t go out and get the great pitcher in that situation.”
Dansby Swanson smacked a two-run double off the wall in right-center on a 3-2 pitch. Suddenly, the 3-0 lead was 3-2.
Baker opted for Glover who came in and struck out Nick Markakis to end the eighth inning with 32,895 screaming fans at SunTrust Park sensing another comeback.
“I didn’t really have a plan,” Glover said. “He’s a great hitter. Just tried to attack him. Went with a backdoor cutter, got a swing and miss, and was happy with it.”
So with Baker admitting that Glover would have closed Friday night if the opportunity had presented itself and then getting four outs Sunday for the save, the question was raised: Is Glover your closer now?
“Well, right now he’s the most durable and he throws strikes,” Baker said. “(Shawn) Kelley wasn’t available today after going two innings. Everybody wanted him to be the closer, but a closer has to throw three or four days in a row. So a lot of it relies on Koda’s health and he wants it. We’re willing to give it to him as long as he keeps doing the job.”
With the way things have gone the last week for the bullpen, this might be a situation where the pitcher who best displays closer-like abilities will get that shot. Right now, it’s Glover.
Strasburg was certainly impressed. Jokingly, Strasburg would prefer Glover remains a reliever.
“His stuff is obviously off the charts and he’s got four pitches,” Strasburg said. “Might get a little cute and might turn him into a starter. But I like him there in the back end. He definitely seems to really enjoy the moment.”
Glover said watching Strasburg deal like he did for seven-plus innings actually got him fired up to go in and get outs.
“When he’s dominating like that, I mean (it) makes you feel confident, too,” Glover said. “I kind of tried to feed off him a little bit, get locked in, and get the job done, get him the win.”
And does Glover think the bullpen can start becoming more consistent?
“I think everybody is. Everybody’s getting up tight and stuff about the bullpen and everything like that. It’s early. We’ll be fine. We’re going to get rolling.”