The archaic manner in which the top of the fifth ended dominated the discussion of Wednesday’s 8-7 loss to the Pirates, but at least everyone now knows Rule 5.09c and the so-called “fourth out” clause.
There were a lot of other things going on in this game, though, things worth revisiting as the Nationals sleep in and enjoy a day off before opening a four-game, holiday weekend series with the Marlins on Friday. …
* Josh Bell is red hot again
After a consistently productive opening two months to the season, Bell had finally begun to cool off a bit in mid-June. He endured an 0-for-11 mini-slump from June 12-15, one that lowered his batting average 15 points (from .305 to .290) and his OPS 30 points (from .831 to .801).
And then, just like that, Bell turned it back on again and has been as good as ever at the plate. With a 3-for-3, two-double, two-walk showing Wednesday afternoon, he is now batting .467 (21-for-45) over his last 13 games, with 10 extra-base hits, a .564 on-base percentage, .889 slugging percentage and 1.453 OPS. This was only the second time he’s reached base five times in a game in his career, first with the Nationals.
All of that has lifted Bell’s season batting average to .319 and his OPS to .909.
“It just seems like I’m on time,” the big slugger said. “Maybe the second month of the season, I couldn’t hit sliders, and now I’m on time for them, too. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know what pitchers are going to attack me with. But they were getting me out with sliders for a while, and they didn’t this series. So that means I’m in a good place. We’ll see what the Marlins do.”
* Was the “A” bullpen on fumes?
This seems a strange question to ask the day after the Nats got an eight-inning start from Patrick Corbin, allowing Davey Martinez to stay away from every member of his bullpen except for closer Tanner Rainey. But watching the second half of Wednesday’s game, you couldn’t help but think the rest of Martinez’s top relievers looked exhausted.
After Steve Cishek replaced starter Paolo Espino and got out of the fifth on two pitches (via the controversial double play in which the Pirates still were credited with one run), Martinez turned to stalwarts Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan. Neither looked sharp.
Edwards gave up Bryan Reynolds’ solo homer and faced six batters in the sixth, then was asked to return to the mound for the seventh. He lasted only two batters before getting pulled in favor of Finnegan, who proceeded to surrender a three-run homer to Reynolds, the Pittsburgh center fielder’s third of the day.
This was Edwards’ fourth appearance in six days, and he pitched multiple innings in three of them. It was also Finnegan’s fourth appearance in six days. And though Rainey didn’t get into the game, he was warming up at one point in case the Nationals rallied to tie or take the lead heading to the ninth. Had he come in from the bullpen, he also would’ve been making his fourth appearance in six days.
“They were off yesterday,” Martinez said when asked about Edwards and Finnegan’s struggles in this game. “We just couldn’t get the ball down to Reynolds. He hits balls up well. … Those guys are throwing the ball well. But when you come into these games and face good hitters, you still have to make good pitches.”
Ultimately, Martinez was hoping those three relievers could combine to give him four quality innings. It didn’t work out that way, which raised a question: Why not let Cishek return to the mound for the sixth after throwing only two pitches in the fifth? That would at least have allowed the other three to pitch only one inning a piece.
“No, I thought we could’ve covered (the rest of the game) fairly easily,” the manager said. “He came in for a big moment and got (Ke’Bryan) Hayes, which is what we wanted him for, and did a great job.”
* RISP success doesn’t necessarily lead to wins
The Nationals somehow managed to win the first two games of the series despite going a paltry 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position. Each hit just happened to give them the lead in the bottom of the eighth and put them in position to win.
Then in Wednesday’s game, they had far more success in those situations, going 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Only to lose the game.
* Cruz heads into birthday feeling fine
Nelson Cruz continues to produce at the plate after a sluggish start to the season. The veteran designated hitter went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two walks on Wednesday, raising his season batting average to .249 and his OPS to .718.
Those numbers still don’t blow you away, but consider Cruz was batting a paltry .147 with a .444 OPS on May 6. In 47 games since, he’s batting .306 with a .389 on-base percentage, .482 slugging percentage and .871 OPS.
Then consider Cruz turns 42 on Friday. The only players since 2000 to finish with an OPS higher than .718 at 41 or older while getting at least 400 plate appearances are Barry Bonds in 2006-07, Raul Ibañez in 2013 and Edgar Martinez in 2004.