One week in, Nats hope relievers’ psyches aren’t damaged

PHILADELPHIA - Ryan Zimmerman and other veterans on the Nationals roster who have been through the grind before understand the significance of 1-of-26 weeks in a baseball season, especially when it’s the first one.

“It’s one week,” Zimmerman said. “So it’s hard to take anything away from it.”

Easy for a veteran to say. For the younger members of the Nationals, especially those who spend the majority of their time in the bullpen, there is more danger of letting one ragged week have long-lasting effects.

That, if anything, should be the Nationals’ biggest concern right now as they head home following a disheartening weekend at Citizens Bank Park, one that ended with a 4-3, walk-off loss to the Phillies.zi

The Nationals dropped two in a row to a rebuilding Philadelphia club, and nearly dropped the opener of the series after turning a 7-0 lead into a 7-6 nail-biter. Among the primary culprits: A relief corps that one week into the season sports a 7.52 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP, and has been charged with two of the team’s three losses.

Koda-Glover-throw-gray-sidebar.jpgAgain, it’s only one week into the season. But for the younger members of that bullpen - notably Koda Glover, Blake Treinen and Enny Romero - one bad week in early April can cause some damaged psyches in the long run.

“You worry about it today, but the life of the reliever is that you have to forget yesterday and work on whatever didn’t happen yesterday,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You can’t take it forward with you. If you can’t handle this, how are you going to handle the pressure that starts in the second half and the playoffs and the World Series? So this is a learning process for a lot of them. I’ve still got confidence in those guys, big-time.”

Today’s loss followed a slightly different script than previous ones. The Nationals were one out away from suffering a nondescript, 3-0 defeat until Zimmerman brought them back from the dead with a three-run, pinch-hit homer in the top of the ninth.

It was the kind of uplifting blast that should reverse a team’s fortunes, especially when it comes from a key veteran like Zimmerman, who enjoyed a brilliant first week on the heels of the worst season of his career, going 7-for-21 with three homers and a team-high six RBIs.

“That was big,” Baker said. “That was a big home run by Zim. That’s why we had him up there.”

It was only the second pinch-hit home run of Zimmerman’s career - the previous one came in this same park, way back on April 15, 2010, off the long-forgotten Danys Baez - but it was the 13th time in his career that Zimmerman has hit a game-tying or go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later.

After a frustrating 2016 spent hitting the ball right at defenders, Zimmerman finally has positive results to his name, though he makes no excuses for what happened last year.

“I appreciate all the help and the: ‘He hit the ball hard and didn’t get anything for it,’” he said. “The truth is, I didn’t have a very good year. So this year, off to a good start. Which I don’t really do often.”

Zimmerman’s blast would have left a sweet taste in everyone’s mouths for the bus ride back to D.C., but the good vibes were short-lived after Glover took the mound for the bottom of the ninth.

The rookie right-hander got himself into immediate trouble, walking pinch-hitter Daniel Nava on four pitches to open the frame. That proved his undoing, because Nava would eventually advance to third on Freddy Galvis’ single to right and then score on César Hernández’s bloop single to left.

“It’s a learning experience,” Glover said. “I learned today you can’t walk people. It’s gonna come back and hurt you. I gave up a couple walks and it bit me in the butt.”

Glover wasn’t the only one to suffer that fate this week. Of the seven walks issued by Nationals relievers so far, four came around to score. Three of those walks have been to the leadoff hitter, and all three of those have scored.

“Leadoff walks have been killing us late,” Baker said. “Everybody knows it. It’s just tough to take when they get, like, one hit and win the game.”

The silver lining to today’s game? Only Sammy Solis and Glover were needed out of the bullpen, leaving that overworked group in much better shape heading home for a series this week with the Cardinals.

But the relief corps remains a major question mark, so much so that the Nationals are still seeking reinforcements.

Today they re-signed Joe Nathan to a minor league contract, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. Nathan, who was among the last players cut from spring training, elected to return to the organization and pitch in the minors rather than sign elsewhere.

Whether the 42-year-old is a viable answer for the questions that plague this team remains to be seen. But one week in, the Nationals already are exploring all their options.

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