Last season, when the Nationals had players go down due to injuries, their call-ups and reserves stepped up in a big way and played a major factor in the team’s overall success.
Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore got called up from Triple-A Syracuse and Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina came off the bench to help the Nats overcome injuries to Michael Morse and Jayson Werth. After the season-ending knee injury to Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki came in, managed the pitching staff beautifully and picked up a bunch of clutch hits.
When the Nats had players sidelined for reasons other than injuries, guys filled in and delivered big performances.
John Lannan came up from Syracuse to get a couple of big wins in spot starts, and then filled in admirably once Stephen Strasburg reached his innings limit and was shut down. Michael Gonzalez also was called up from Syracuse and became a solid late-inning option when Henry Rodriguez showed he couldn’t be trusted in high-leverage spots.
This season, the reserves and fill-ins hadn’t really provided too much through the season’s first two months. Moore, Bernadina and, to a lesser extent, Lombardozzi struggled mightily from an offensive perspective. Zach Duke didn’t show much in his one spot start. Rookie Nathan Karns, 25, didn’t perform poorly in his two weeks in the Nats rotation considering the circumstances, but he didn’t light the big leagues on fire, either.
But recently, and last night specifically, the fill-ins filled up the stat sheet, in a good way.
Getting the call to make a spot start after beginning the season at Syracuse, Ross Ohlendorf pitched six stellar innings at Coors Field, allowing just one run on two hits. The 30-year-old right-hander permitted just one baserunner through his first five frames and held a potent Rockies lineup in check, saving the bullpen in the process.
Manager Davey Johnson was so impressed with Ohlendorf’s outing that he told reporters after the game that he’s going to try and find a way to keep the righty on the Nats’ active roster a bit longer.
Anthony Rendon, called up last week and given a shot as the Nats’ new starting second baseman after Danny Espinosa landed on the DL with a fractured wrist, went 2-for-4 with an RBI double. He now has at least one hit in all six games since his promotion from Syracuse, is batting .375 with four doubles and four RBIs in those six contests, and clearly has added some punch to the bottom of the Nats’ order.
Up from Double-A to fill one of the open bullpen spots created by the departure of Duke and Rodriguez, Ian Krol threw a perfect seventh inning, striking out two and throwing 11 of his 14 pitches for strikes.
The 22-year-old Krol now has thrown 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his big league career, and if you combine his numbers with those put up by Fernando Abad, a fellow left-hander promoted from the minor league ranks recently, the two southpaws have worked 12 1/3 innings without allowing a run. They’ve surrendered just five hits and struck out 14.
The Nats are sitting at .500 through the season’s first 64 games for a number of reasons, but one toward the top of the list is the lack of production from the reserve guys, the fill-ins, the players at the top of the minor league levels that had gotten a chance to get some playing time.
Last season, the Nats rode the efforts of minor league call-ups like Harper, Moore and Lannan. They’ve been looking for a spark from those type of guys again this season, and recently, they’re starting to get it.