The Nationals’ relievers have been spectacular this season. Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen - to name a few - have performed as well as they have at any point in their careers.
But given the number of tight ballgames the Nationals have played and one-run leads their bullpen has had to protect, finishes like today’s will happen.
Burnett, who came into the ballgame with a stellar 1.04 ERA on the season, was tasked with holding a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning. Six pitches into his outing, the Orioles were up 2-1.
But while Burnett didn’t execute today and got stuck with the loss, the Nats won’t be too tough on a guy who now has allowed just five earned runs on the season and has stranded 11 of 15 inherited runners.
“I can’t take offense with Burnie. He’s been almost perfect every time out,” manager Davey Johnson said.
Matt Wieters’ two-run home run off Burnett came on a fastball right down the middle. Burnett gave up a single to right to Adam Jones leading off the inning, and then Wieters crunched a 0-1 pitch to left-center, hitting it near the back of the Orioles bullpen.
“I tried to go with strength and left a pitch out over the plate, and he made me pay,” Burnett said. “I left it up a little bit and he put some wood on it.”
Is it tough to constantly be working in high-stress innings late in games without much of a cushion?
“We’re facing big league hitters, night in and night out,” Burnett said. “We’re also big league pitchers, and we’re supposed to do our jobs and get out of that. I didn’t do my job. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. You’d like to have a little bit of leniency. But a one-run lead, our job is to come in and nail it down. And unfortunately I didn’t do that today.”
The Wieters home run benefited one team with a struggling offense. It made the offensive issues of the other team even more pronounced.
In this three-game series, the Nationals scored a total of five runs. Both of their losses were of the 2-1 variety.
The message is clear.
“Oh, yeah, we need to score more,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “That’s not in question. Those guys (in the bullpen) have been unbelievable and Burnie’s been right there at the top with those guys. He’ll be out there tomorrow I’m sure.
“We want to score more runs. I think this whole series kind of shows you how good both of these teams’ pitching is. It’s not easy to score runs but we definitely need to do a better job of capitalizing on our opportunities.”