The last two days, the Nationals' bullpen has been presented with two close games in the wake of the trade that sent Matt Capps to the Minnesota Twins. On Saturday night, Drew Storen gave up a run before Ryan Zimmerman saved a win for the Nationals with a walk-off homer. On Sunday, Storen pitched two scoreless innings, keeping the game against the Phillies tied through the ninth and 10th before Collin Balester lost it.
But without Capps, the Nationals' bullpen hadn't been presented with a save situation yet. It was on Monday, and after the departure of the All-Star closer, the Nationals had no problems.
Sean Burnett earned his second big-league save, recording the last five outs of the game in a 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. With Drew Storen waiting in case the Diamondbacks got a runner on base, Burnett cruised through the ninth in just eight pitches.
The win came against one of the National League's worst teams, but one of its more potent lineups; Arizona is third in the National League with 119 homers. That the Nationals were able to get the last five outs with one pitcher after 7 1/3 superb innings from Livan Hernandez allowed manager Jim Riggleman to breathe a little sigh of relief.
Riggleman was standing on the top step of the dugout as Burnett faced Miguel Montero, debating whether to go get Storen to face right-handed slugger Mark Reynolds. He stuck with the left-handed Burnett, who has quietly been one of the Nationals' best relievers with a 3.25 FIP. That kind of confidence will be key to working through the closer-by-committee approach; Riggleman trusted Burnett against the righty, resisting the urge to play a matchup and sticking with Burnett, who's actually been far better against righties (a .179 batting average) than lefties (.317).
Hernandez looked to be on track for a complete game, until Riggleman pulled him with 91 pitches in the eighth inning, when the Diamondbacks had two runners on base. It was a situation that could've backfired, had Burnett let in a run or two in the eighth or gotten into trouble in the ninth.
But the Nationals' new bullpen held firm, and in doing so, passed its first test.