Despite tough loss, bullpen again gives Nats a chance at victory

Overshadowed a bit in the 6-5 10-inning loss for the Nationals at Philadelphia on Thursday was the overall effectiveness of the Nats bullpen.

Starter Aníbal Sánchez lasted only 3 1/3 innings. From there, the Nats relievers compiled 6 1/3 innings, allowing the Phillies only two runs on just two hits. The bullpen struck out 10 batters. Both Kyle Finnegan and Tanner Rainey struck out the side.

It all started with Wander Suero, who worked 1 2/3 innings after Sánchez's struggles. He kept the Phillies off the scoreboard and allowed the Nats an opening to rally.

"These guys, I say it all the time, they've covered a lot of innings this year and they've pitched really well," said manager Davey Martinez on his postgame Zoom video call. "I'm watching Suero starting out late with us and now he has matured, just talking to him about pitching. He has a plan going out there all the time."

Martinez said Suero has worked very hard between outings to hone his mechanics. The Nationals have told Suero to shelve the curveball for now and focus on the cutter and the changeup. The results have been outstanding. Suero has allowed only three runs in his last seven appearances, a span of 8 1/3 innings.

"He's got a sense of confidence when he goes out there," Martinez said. "He understands what he wants to do. He knows what he wants to do with his cut fastball. He's got a good one. He knows what he wants to throw against right-handed hitters, against left-handed hitters, and he has really worked on his changeup. His changeup was effective today as well.

"We've talked to him a lot about just focusing on being a two-pitch pitcher and get those really good, not throwing curveballs. Last year, he had a tough time throwing curveballs. It's not a bad pitch, but a lot of times he tends to hang it. This year, he is focused more on throwing his cutters where he wants to throw them and throwing his changeup which has been effective."

Rainey-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgFinnegan and Rainey were next and they were lights out, striking out a combined six batters in a row. Will Harris gave up one run, but Daniel Hudson notched five outs. Sean Doolittle recorded two outs in the 10th, but allowed the sacrifice fly to score the game-winning run.

"He threw the ball well again today," Martinez said of Doolittle. "Did everything he could to try to get a forceout somehow, someway. Honestly, I thought that ball hit shallow enough to maybe throw (J.T.) Realmuto out at home. If he continues to throw the ball like that, good for Doo, good for us.

"Suero comes in and gets some big outs, big strikeouts. Then he comes back the next inning and gets some big outs for us. Hand the ball off to Finn and he was really good today. Rainey was really good today. Harris got hit in the leg right away and he kept us there. Huddy comes in and throws the ball well. He got the ground ball and it just wasn't hit hard enough, they tied the game up."

With the Nats leading 5-4, Harris gave up a Didi Gregorius single to begin the eighth. With one out, Harris surrendered a walk to Jay Bruce. A single by Alec Bohm loaded the bases. Pinch-hitter Andrew McCutchen's single tied the game off Hudson.

"The walk to Bruce was honestly the difference in the inning," Harris said. "I just didn't have a good feel. Seems like a couple of good outings and then kind of take a step or two back. Try and figure it out tomorrow. Haven't had a lot of good fortune with guys hitting the ball at people these days, so hopefully I can figure it out before the season is over.

"Me not doing my job tonight, I think, is difference in the game. The guys that came in before me and after me all threw the ball very well. In one-run games, usually one inning is the difference and I think that was the difference today."

Harris said he was uncomfortable in Thursday's outing because he did not have a good feel for the baseball throughout his 14 pitches.

"The way the ball is coming out, the way ball feels in my hand," Harris said. "The way the pitches look, the swings I get, kind of all of the above. It's been a little bit of a grind. Trying to do better, try to be better tomorrow."

Despite the loss, Martinez is optimistic about his bullpen. He feels this confident because the relievers have worked a ton of innings and yet still have been able to keep the opponent from adding on in most games.

"Finnegan, nobody really knew about him and he's got an idea of what he wants to do out there," Martinez said. "Rainey is becoming the guy at the back end of the bullpen. You have Harris and Hudson and Doolittle continue to throw the ball like that. (When) we get some starting pitching, we are going to look pretty good from the sixth inning on. I'm proud of those guys."

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