Nats proceeding without designated closer

Six times in their last 16 games, the Nationals have entered the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or fewer. Here, in order, is the name of the pitcher who took the mound in those save situations:

May 5 at Diamondbacks: Kyle Finnegan

May 6 at Diamondbacks: Hunter Harvey

May 13 vs. Mets: Finnegan

May 16 at Marlins: Harvey

May 20 vs. Tigers: Finnegan

May 21 vs. Tigers: Harvey

That’s right, Davey Martinez has alternated his team’s last six save opportunities between the two relievers he seems to trust the most to close out games. Neither has had the chance to save back-to-back games since Finnegan at the start of the month.

So, if the Nationals happen to enter the ninth tonight holding a slim lead over the Padres, who would get the ball?

“It all depends where we’re at in their lineup,” Martinez said with a laugh this afternoon. “Obviously those two guys in the back, they’ll pitch the eighth and ninth. It all depends what the matchups look like. At any given moment, Finnegan’s going to close for us, and Harvey.”

Suffice it to say, the Nats don’t currently have a designated closer. That’s the kind of thing that often happens when the guy who was the designated closer struggles over an extended stretch, then the guy who replaces him also struggles.

And that has been true to some extent here. Two of the aforementioned save opportunities in the last 16 days have turned into blown saves, one by Finnegan in Arizona and one by Harvey in Miami. But Martinez’s decision to mix-and-match with both right-handers isn’t entirely a byproduct of their struggles. He’s still using both in high-leverage spots, but sometimes those spots come prior to the ninth inning.

“Look, I’ve always explained to them: 'When you come in the game, it’s to close out that inning no matter what it is,'” the manager said. “That’s your job, to get three outs and get it to the next guy, if there’s a next guy. If it’s the end of the game, then be ready for the next day. But they’ve all been good. They have been pitching fairly good.”

That’s also not entirely true. Finnegan enters tonight’s game with a 5.00 ERA and 1.722 WHIP, highest among the team’s regular relievers. Harvey’s season totals (3.00 ERA, 0.952 WHIP) are much better, but he’s allowed the tying or go-ahead run to score in three of his last seven appearances.

Still, in this particular bullpen, Finnegan and Harvey are Martinez’s best options, so he’s deploying them in that manner, trying to find the most meaningful spots to summon them from the bullpen.

On Saturday, that meant Harvey in the eighth inning and Finnegan in the ninth. One day later, it meant Finnegan in the sixth and seventh innings, then Harvey in the ninth.

And if the situation arises tonight? Well, both guys better be ready, because either could hear their name called at any point late in the game.

“This is something that I talked to both of them about, and they’re both willing to take the ball,” Martinez said. “Just like Finnegan the other day took the ball in the sixth inning. He was all-in. It’s good to know, based on conversations, that those guys will be ready after the sixth inning.”

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