Davey Johnson acknowledges that he often pulls his starters a little earlier than he should, for any number of reasons.
Tonight, Dan Haren got the early hook and, in a 3-3 game, it's fair to question Johnson's decision.
Haren had thrown just 88 pitches on the night, surrendered four hits and struck out 10 over six strong innings.
His velocity was still holding steady, his offspeed stuff was crisp and his location - outside of the two pitches that were smacked for solo home runs in the second and the belt-high fastball that Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibone roped for a double - was excellent.
Yet, with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the sixth, Johnson went to his bench, calling on Roger Bernadina to pinch-hit for Haren.
Bernadina grounded out to second on the first pitch he saw, ending the inning, and that brought Henry Rodriguez out of the bullpen to work the seventh in a tie game. Yes, the same Henry Rodriguez who had not appeared in a game with the Nats ahead or tied since April 4.
Johnson's basic rationale for pulling Haren (or at least, what I'm guessing his rationale is) is simple: in a tie game, with the top of the order up behind Haren's spot in the order, Johnson wanted to get someone on, flip the lineup and give his team a chance to push across the go-ahead run.
That all makes sense. And if there's a runner on when Haren is due up, or if there are less than two outs, then I probably make that call, too.
But with two outs and nobody on, and Bernadina batting just .115 on the season, and Haren working on a strong start at just 88 pitches, it was an interesting decision to pull Haren from the game. After all, Haren has three hits this season to Bernadina's seven, and Haren has gotten 43 fewer at-bats than the guy who pinch-hit for him.
Rodriguez ended up throwing a scoreless seventh inning, hitting 101 mph on the stadium gun and then hitting Kevin Frandsen with a 100 mph pitch on the forearm before working out of the frame.
But now Johnson has used up one of his bench players and has dipped into his bullpen an inning earlier than he could have. Regardless, we're tied 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh.
Update: Drew Storen's rocky 2013 campaign continues, and the Nationals find themselves in a hole again.
Storen allowed two runs in the eighth inning on a walk and two hits, and the Phillies lead 5-3 as we go to the bottom of the eighth.
After a Michael Young walk, Storen struck out Ryan Howard but allowed a grounder down the right field line off the bat of Delmon Young that got past a diving Adam LaRoche. It went into the right field corner, and Bryce Harper's throw home was not in time to get Michael Young, who came all the way around from first.
One batter later, Domonic Brown smoked a double to the right-center field gap, bringing in pinch-runner Michael Martinez to make it a two-run game.
Storen now has a 5.21 ERA this season. Over his last seven appearances, the Nats' former closer has allowed 11 hits, four walks, five runs and has been credited with two blown saves.
Update II: The Nats twice came back from a deficit to knot the score tonight, but they couldn't overcome a two-run Phillies eighth inning and fell to their division rivals by a score of 5-3.
Haren gave the Nats six strong innings, Denard Span had three hits and LaRoche homered and drove in two, but the two runs allowed by Storen in the eighth were the difference.
The Nats fall to 25-24 on the season, and it appears they'll be 5 1/2 games behind the Braves by the end of the night. Atlanta won its suspended game with the Mets earlier this evening, and the Braves hold a six-run lead over the Mets in their regularly scheduled game.