Nats hope bullpen depth pays off in long run

The Nationals’ bullpen hierarchy has been pretty standard in recent seasons. Davey Martinez usually had two or three relievers he relied on to pitch late in close games. The others tended to be used in lopsided games, whether the team was winning or losing.

The gap between the “A” bullpen and “B” bullpen has been shrinking so far this season, though. Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan remain the go-to guys in the eighth and ninth innings, but beyond that Martinez has shown trust in almost everyone else to pitch in situations of consequence.

“Hey, if I put you in the game, it’s because I trust you,” the manager said with a laugh. “But it is nice to know we have some guys who can get big outs at any moment, really.”

Truth be told, Martinez is willing to use seven of the eight members of his current bullpen in close games. Dylan Floro, who has allowed only one run in 23 2/3 innings, has emerged as the top seventh-inning option in front of Harvey and Finnegan. But Derek Law (2.76 ERA), Jacob Barnes (3.14) and Jordan Weems (4.76) all have been used as well. And Robert Garcia remains the choice for matchups against left-handed hitters.

They haven’t all been perfect, but they’ve all shown enough to warrant continued usage. And that, the Nationals hope, will pay off in the long run.

“It’s definitely going to help. Because these guys all know in any situation (they could be used),” Martinez said. “And they’ve all been up for the task. It’s been great. For me, you don’t have to scratch your head and say: ‘Well, this guy has to throw four or five days in a row.’ We can use different guys to get outs in big situations.”

As a group, Nationals relievers have a 3.70 ERA, which ranks 13th in the majors. That number actually dropped as low as 3.36 last weekend before an ugly showing in Sunday’s blowout loss in Philadelphia.

At this point, there’s only one reliever Martinez doesn’t use in close games: Tanner Rainey. The right-hander, still trying to rediscover himself in his long-term return from Tommy John surgery, just went two weeks without appearing before entering for the final inning Sunday in garbage time; he proceeded to give up three runs via a pair of walks and a homer.

Rainey was back on the mound Tuesday night for the top of the ninth with the Nationals trailing 10-0. His command remained shaky, and he hit two Twins batters. But he also recorded a strikeout and induced a double-play grounder, allowing himself to complete a scoreless inning.

“For me right now it’s about putting him in situations that are low leverage and where I think he’s going to succeed,” Martinez said. “He’s still got the stuff to be able to pitch at the major league level. And if everything goes well, to be able to pitch in big situations for us.

“Look, he missed a lot of time. We got him back, it took him a while to get built back up. Now he’s starting to get his velo back. Now it’s about location for him. If he can do that, we’ll definitely put him in situations more where he’s used to being. He's working hard. He’s throwing on a mound almost every day, working on the mechanics that we talked to him about. Staying in his legs, he’s definitely gotten better. You can see it with the velo. For him, it’s about consistency now and hitting his spots.”

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