Last night’s wild 8-7 win was significant for the Nationals in that it brought them into a tie with the defending National League champion Phillies in the division standings.
Davey Martinez, always focused on going 1-0 every single day, managed in a way to give the Nats the best opportunity to come away with a series-opening victory. Put your best stuff out there today and worry about tomorrow later.
Well, tomorrow is today, and there are some possible ramifications from last night’s game.
Martinez deployed his “A” bullpen last night after starter Josiah Gray couldn’t get out of the sixth inning. Carl Edwards Jr. (20 pitches), Hunter Harvey (16), Mason Thompson (11) and Kyle Finnegan (34) all threw a decent amount and in high-leverage situations.
Finnegan, whose pitch count set a new career high, is probably unavailable today, as the Nats try to jump the Phillies in the National League East. But the rest of the bullpen may be available to pitch in some capacity if needed, assuming their pregame work goes well.
“They're going out there to throw right now,” Martinez said during his pregame press conference. “I'll know more here in a little bit. But I think everybody should be pretty good to go. And we got two more games before we have a day off too, so that helps.”
Thursday’s off-day after the trip back from the West Coast and Monday’s off-day before a three-game series against the Diamondbacks sandwich this weekend series against the Phillies. So between today and tomorrow’s finale, Martinez could try to push some guys a little further knowing more rest is coming in a couple of days.
Of course, the best support for a bullpen is a strong starting pitcher performance. MacKenzie Gore is making his first start since a brilliant outing on Sunday in Kansas City in which he struck out a career-high 11 batters over seven innings.
Gore has already had some success against a couple of the Phillies’ big left-handed hitters: Bryce Harper is 0-for-3 with a strikeout and Kyle Schwarber is 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk against the young lefty. The task for him today will be sticking with that success while also making counter adjustments to the Philly sluggers.
“They're very good hitters. The left-handers are really good,” Martinez said. “So it's about making your pitches, not trying to do too much because you're facing who you're facing. Just get to the next pitch and focus on just making a good pitch every pitch.”
It just so happens the Nationals are not the only team dealing with a taxed bullpen. Rob Thomson had to use four relievers last night after Zack Wheeler couldn’t get out of the fourth and he used three in Thursday’s loss to the Mets after Rob Thomson only completed four innings.
One of those relief pitchers on Thursday is today’s opener Matt Strahm. The lefty is starting today’s bullpen game and is expected to go at least two innings.
Since he’s only pitching the first couple of frames, Martinez feels comfortable keeping Corey Dickerson in the lineup, although he is now batting eighth after batting fifth against a righty starter last night. Facing an opposing bullpen game presents a unique challenge for a manager. It becomes more of a chess match in which you let your opponent make the first move.
“I bumped him down in the lineup. We'll see how far Strahm will go,” Martinez said. “But Corey, he's swinging the bat really well. Corey has faced lefties plenty of times. We'll keep him in there and we'll make them make the decision on what they want to do. We can always pinch-hit, so I want him to get in there today. Tomorrow they got a lefty starting, so we'll probably do something different then.
“But I want to see what they do as far as how they're going to go about matching up guys. They used a lot of guys (last night). They used a lot of guys not only yesterday, but over the past week, their bullpen has been stretched out a little bit. So we'll see how they do today.”
When you know you’re facing pitchers that aren’t expected to throw too much, does it make more sense to have your batters try to grind at-bats and get pitch counts up?
“Well, we've been grinding at-bats,” Martinez said. “I thought we did a great job yesterday with Wheeler. Wheeler's a tough guy to face and we did a really good job of one, being aggressive but yet fouling some tough pitches off, getting to the next pitch. That's what I want these guys to continue to do. If you get a pitch that you should hit and hit hard, hit it. Don't worry about getting to the next pitch. But they've been working good at-bats.”