Bullpen with questions and answers as Nats move on to Chicago

CINCINNATI - The bullpen was certainly tested Sunday when starter Tanner Roark had to be pulled after three innings with the Nationals trailing by five runs.

Left-hander Sammy Solis was solid again, pitching three innings of scoreless baseball and racking up a career-high six strikeouts. In 13 games, he now has a 1.59 ERA in 17 innings.

Last season, he said at times his off speed offerings were not as repeatable. This season, he has much more confidence in every pitch he throws.

"Just staying consistent with my pitches," Solis said. "I think last year the biggest thing was my off speed was very inconsistent and this year I've kind of found it. Ability to change speeds and throw any pitch in any count has really been a weapon for me."

Solis has been consistent. He has the ability to pitch long into games, and may be an option if they ever need a spot start, similar to the idea that right-hander Yusmeiro Petit is candidate for long duty.

Sunday he won the comeback game in Cincinnati. His three innings came right in the middle of the Nats' huge rally from 5-0 down, to 10-5 lead. They would eventually hang on for a 10-9 win.


"Solis was awesome, he did an awesome job," manager Dusty Baker said. "He saved our bullpen, he went three innings and allowed us to mix and match there at the end. I knew that game was going to come down to, that's why I was kind of saving my pinch-hitters, (Chris) Heisey and (Jayson) Werth. That's why I let Solis hit in that inning with two outs. I just knew that in this ballpark I've been here many times, this ballpark no lead is safe."

Solis struck out looking in the seventh and then left-hander Felipe Rivero arrived.

Rivero had difficulty getting left-handed hitters out. Joey Votto walked, Brandon Phillips singled and Jay Bruce crushed a three-run shot to get the Reds back in the game, cutting the Nats' lead to 10-8.

"We got to figure out a way to get Rivero straight against left-handers, because we certainly need him. He has dynamite stuff. We just can't figure out why he's not getting these left-handers out and he's getting right-handers out, which is his primary job.

"We'll go back to the drawing table and (pitching coach) Mike Maddux will figure it out."

Rivero has allowed left-handers to hit .324 and right-handers have mustered only a .121 average. In two appearances in June, he has surrendered five runs in one total inning of work. Hitters are batting .500 in matchups with him the last two outings.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon notched his 15th save but it was probably one of the most difficult stops of his career. After allowing a run, he loaded the bases on an intentional walk to Bruce. He then managed to record three outs to finish the game.

In made for dramatic and teetering-on-the-brink-of-disaster baseball theater. Nationals fans had to be biting their nails in that ninth. But Papelbon said he never lost faith he could save the game.

"For me, I always thought that I was going to be able to get out of it," Papelbon said. "I never really had a doubt. I truly didn't. I always kept that mindset. For that was key, not wavering on what happened in the previous pitch but living in the moment and taking one pitch at a time."

The win was good, the save was crazy.

Solis was outstanding and Shawn Kelley bounced back with 1 2/3 innings of shutout ball after surrendering the late homer Saturday.

But questions remain long term for Rivero and Papelbon. As the team heads to Chicago, they look to figure out how to have quieter innings so that this doesn't lead to harsher penalties later in the season.

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