LOS ANGELES - In Tuesday's do-or-die wild card game, Davey Martinez could justify an all-hands-on-deck philosophy with his pitching staff.
In Thursday's opener of a best-of-five National League Division Series, the Nationals manager felt such an approach wasn't justified.
Given the way his team lost 6-0 to the Dodgers, Martinez might have no choice but to treat tonight's Game 2 more like the elimination game he managed earlier this week.
After getting six harrowing but ultimately effective innings out of starter Patrick Corbin, Martinez had to turn to his bullpen for the bottom of the seventh, the Nationals trailing the Dodgers 2-0. That group's task: Keep the deficit right there and at least give a lineup that had done nothing all night against Los Angeles' pitching staff a chance to mount a modest rally.
The three relievers who wound up pitching (Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, Hunter Strickland) didn't come close to achieving that goal.
Collectively, that trio faced 12 batters. Six of them reached base. Two of them drew walks. Two of them singled. Two of them homered.
And thus did a 2-0 deficit turn into a 6-0 deficit that put the game well out of reach.
Martinez's choice of relievers for those situations wasn't unconventional, at least not by regular season standards. Those are guys who often pitched with the team trailing. But in the postseason, with the stakes higher, there should be an urge to use the best relievers available in a pen, if only to try to keep the score right where it is.
Rainey, a hard-throwing rookie who had an impressive September but was prone to command woes all year long, struck out leadoff man A.J. Pollock but walked Joc Pederson before giving up a bloop single to Justin Turner.
That's when Martinez made his biggest pitching decision of the night. With left-handed slugger and MVP candidate Cody Bellinger coming up to bat, and with two more lefties looming soon thereafter in Max Muncy and Corey Seager, the situation seemed to call for a left-handed reliever.
The Nationals, as you probably know, only have one lefty reliever: Sean Doolittle. Doolittle is a closer by trade, but he has pitched in the seventh and eighth innings over the last month as he worked his way back from fatigue and inconsistent performance. It might have been slightly unconventional to use him in this spot, but in a game of this magnitude it wouldn't have seemed out of place at all.
Instead, Martinez went with Rodney, the 42-year-old right-hander he has trusted since he arrived earlier this season. Rodney does have a knack for getting of jams, sometimes self-inflicted ones. And he nearly did get out of this one, striking out Bellinger and then getting ahead 0-2 on the right-handed Chris Taylor. But he couldn't finish Taylor off and ultimately walked him to load the bases.
Moments later, the left-handed Muncy ripped a two-run single to right to make it a 4-0 game.
"In that situation, try to get a ground ball," Rodney said. "I think (Muncy) saw something. It's difficult in that situation. I feel good, man. I get an out, but then my command is not what I was hoping for."
Martinez's explanation for how he managed that inning?
"I liked the matchup with Rodney, with the changeups on Bellinger. He got him out," the manager said. "The big at-bat was Taylor. He had him 0-2 ... and then walked him. And then I liked the matchup again with the changeups on the lefties at that particular moment. He had two outs. You know, he got bases loaded. I thought he was he would throw another changeup, and Muncy's a good hitter. And he actually didn't throw a bad pitch. It's just Muncy put the ball in play. But Rodney's been in situations like that and got big outs."
The deficit now four runs, Martinez put Strickland in for the eighth and watched the right-hander give up two towering home runs plus two drives to the warning track that were caught.
When the game ended, neither Doolittle nor fellow late-inning stalwart Daniel Hudson had so much as warmed up in the bullpen.
Come tonight, with the Nationals sending Stephen Strasburg to the mound against Clayton Kershaw and desperately needing a win to even up the series, Martinez can't afford to leave his only two trusted relievers on the outside looking in.
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