KANSAS CITY - With his team holding onto a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning last night against a Royals lineup that won last year's World Series thanks in large part to its ability to string together big rallies late in games, Nationals manager Dusty Baker could have gone the paint-by-numbers approach with the back end of his bullpen.
Baker, though, just isn't a paint-by-numbers kind of guy. Certainly not this early in the season, when a reliever's overall workload often needs to take priority over the immediate matchups at hand.
Rivero had pitched the previous two days. Treinen had pitched three of the last five days.
So it was rookie Sammy Solis emerging from the Kauffman Stadium bullpen in the bottom of the seventh. Then Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez combining to pitch the eighth before Papelbon finished off the Nationals' 2-0 victory.
This has become an early calling card for the Nats' remade bullpen. Perhaps the club's biggest question mark entering the season, it quickly has become a strength, posting a combined 2.49 ERA through 25 games, the best mark in the National League.
And the contributions are coming from everyone.
"Everyone's doing their part," Solis said. "I think everyone has maybe a slightly different role. But I think come the fifth, sixth inning, we're all ready to go no matter the situation."
Summoned from Triple-A Syracuse last week after veteran Matt Belisle strained his calf, Solis has been thrown right into the fire and has come out unscathed. The left-hander has retired 11 of the 13 batters he has faced, including all three Royals who stepped to the plate against him last night.
"It's everything, having a manager that has faith in you, also a pitching coach," the 27-year-old said. "Not making the team out of spring training didn't mean they didn't have faith in me. Maybe there wasn't a spot for me or whatever, but I'm glad that they're starting to show some faith and give me opportunities."
Perhaps the biggest pitches in last night's game came from Perez, who struck out both Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales with a man in scoring position in the eighth.
"In that situation, I was just trying to make sure I was 100 percent sure I was doing the job, locating the pitch," Perez said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "It's a very important situation. They're two great hitters, and I was able to get the job done."
Perhaps sometime later this summer, Baker will start to rely more on his top two or three relief arms. But for now, the veteran manager understands the importance of spreading the work among all members of his bullpen.
"That's big over the course of the season because you keep them fresh," Baker said. "You don't wear out guys. ... It's early in the season. You can't just ride guys and then jump to somebody else. This is a full team effort, and the guys realize that. Next man up, this is the kind of attitude these guys have."