Baker has no choice but to mix and match in bullpen for now

When Dusty Baker named Shawn Kelley his interim closer late Thursday night, the chosen replacement for Jonathan Papelbon while the latter endures through the first DL stint of his career, he did so with a caveat.

"We think he's best suited for that until Pap gets back," Baker told reporters in San Diego. "But again, he's thrown two days in a row, and I doubt if he'll be in that situation again tomorrow. He'd love to do it again. He'll never not take the ball, but sometimes we have to take it from him."

Which is exactly what Baker did to Kelley late last night. With the Nationals leading the Padres 7-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Kelley sat idly in the bullpen, never getting up from the bench, while Yusmeiro Petit instead took the mound for the save situation.

Petit got the job done. After allowing a leadoff single to Wil Myers and a deep fly ball to Matt Kemp that off the bat had to leave everyone in a Nationals uniform with a briefly fluttering heart, he calmly retired Yangervis Solarte and Melvin Upton Jr. to end the game.

It was only the second save of Petit's career, and it underscored what his teammates have come to realize about him over the last 2 1/2 months.


"He's kind of like the Swiss Army knife," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman told MASN's Dan Kolko in an on-field interview after the game. "He kind of does whatever. He can be the long guy. He closed tonight. He comes in and makes big pitches, and no situation seems to really faze him."

Petit's stuff hardly resembles that of a typical closer - his average fastball velocity this season is 88.5 mph - but he does seem to have the right kind of makeup for the job.

That's the situation the Nationals are going to find themselves in throughout Papelbon's DL stint. Though the club is going to try to use Kelley as much as possible in the closer's role, his injury history - two Tommy John surgeries - forces his manager to monitor his workload with extreme caution.

In trying to fill the gap, Baker is going to have to go the unconventional route. He can't just put the guy with the best arm out there in the biggest spot. He has to use the guys who are best able to handle the pressure. And that doesn't only apply to the ninth inning.

In last night's win, Baker used four relievers. Oliver Perez began the seventh but quickly was yanked after a walk and a double. Blake Treinen cleaned up the mess, though only after allowing both inherited runners to score.

The eighth inning then belonged to Sammy Solis, the surprisingly effective rookie left-hander who continues to pitch well enough to merit usage in big spots like this. Who (outside of perhaps his immediate family) could have foreseen when camp broke in Viera at the end of March that the Nationals' most reliable setup man would be Solis?

Likewise, who would have guessed back then that the guy who would be summoned to record the save when the guy replacing the usual guy who pitches the ninth inning was unavailable would be Petit?

"It worked out," Baker told reporters. "Yusmeiro, he's been our utility pitcher. He can do everything out there. As it turned out, we had a couple choices."

It's going to remain that way for a while longer. Now it's up to Baker to keep pushing the right buttons, and this makeshift relief corps to reward its manager for his faith.

Game 69 lineups: Nats at Padres
Nats ride early offense, late bullpen work to beat...

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