Note: Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo will be participating in a live chat here on MASNsports.com at 12:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Rizzo will take questions on the upcoming First-Year Player Draft and the Nats in general.
Of all the things the Nationals did well in their 6-1 win over the Diamondbacks last night, Sean Burnett's contribution is likely to be overlooked. And the left-hander wasn't perfect in the eighth inning last night, his first action since blowing a one-run lead on Monday and taking the loss in a 5-4 defeat against the Phillies.
But Burnett, mostly, got the job done on Thursday night at Chase Field, entering the game with the Nationals up 4-1 in the eighth inning. He worked through the middle of the Diamondbacks' order, striking out Kelly Johnson by throwing a sinker past him. Burnett then hit Justin Upton with a pitch, which looked like it could be a blow after he got ahead in the count - things unraveled for him on Monday after he got an 0-2 count on Chase Utley, only to walk him. The left-hander came back, though, with a sinker on the outside half of the plate to get a called third strike on Stephen Drew before being lifted for Drew Storen.
Manager Jim Riggleman has continued to vouch for Burnett, saying he thinks the left-hander is throwing the ball better than his results would indicate. And Burnett, who got a two-year contract extension over the winter after a stellar 2010 season, has been burned by a few ground balls that got through the Nationals' infield. Still, it was key for him to enter a close game, face the heart of a lineup and emerge unscathed, and it gave Riggleman a bridge to Storen for a four-our save.
In the eighth, Riggleman used Todd Coffey, Burnett and Storen, bypassing Henry Rodriguez with a pair of lefties due up in Johnson and Drew. It appears Burnett, who's struggled with righties this year after holding them to a .182 batting average last year, will continue to mostly work against lefties for now. And he's gotten most lefties out; he's holding them to a .188 mark, while righties are hitting .317 against him, though they've only hit one homer off him.
Still, the ability to retire lefties is a step for Burnett, and it's a bigger need than the Nationals would otherwise have, with Doug Slaten struggling. The guess here is that if Burnett gets a few solid results, he'll be back in a more expansive role before too long.