After harrowing ninth Saturday night, Nats figuring out bullpen plan

edwards and adams

DENVER – As he mapped out his bullpen plan for Saturday night’s game, Nationals manager Davey Martinez knew he wanted to use Hunter Harvey to get out of a jam (which proved to come in the sixth inning). He knew he wanted Kyle Finnegan to face the top of the Rockies lineup (which happened to come in the eighth). And he knew he wanted Anthony Banda to face a string of lefties (which happened to be due up in the ninth).

Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until Banda took the mound for the bottom of the ninth with a 7-2 lead and couldn’t retire any of the three batters he faced, with Mike Moustakas blasting a two-run homer on the 10th pitch of his at-bat.

So now Martinez was left to summon the only remaining experienced late-inning arm in his bullpen: Carl Edwards Jr., who was thrust into an unexpected save situation.

“We mapped it out,” Martinez said afterward. “One, we wanted to get Finnegan back in there and get him some more work. He’s still searching a little bit with his mechanics. He threw the ball a lot better. He was able to throw the ball inside, get a ground ball, we turned a double play. And then we had the matchups with Banda, all lefties. It just didn’t work out. We had CJ as well. It was just one of those days here.”

It was one of those days that are all too common at Coors Field, but it did still have a happy ending for the Nationals. Despite giving up three hits and allowing two more runs to score while he was on the mound, Edwards gutted his way through the bottom of the ninth and struck out Kris Bryant to end the game with the tying runner in scoring position, the Nats surviving with a 7-6 victory.

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Nats taking final bullpen decisions down to the wire

Mason Thompson throwing gray

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – If the Nationals were choosing the final four pitchers to make their Opening Day bullpen based strictly on spring training stats, the decision would be fairly simple.

Andres Machado (zero runs, zero walks in four innings), Hobie Harris (one run, three hits in nine innings), Paolo Espino (one run in eight innings), Thaddeus Ward (four runs, 12 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings) and Mason Thompson (three runs in seven innings) have performed the best among the relievers competing down to the wire.

Alex Colomé (six runs, 19 baserunners in 9 2/3 innings), Anthony Banda (seven runs in 11 innings) and Wily Peralta (12 earned runs, 24 baserunners in 9 2/3 innings) have not.

Opening Day roster decisions, however, aren’t as simple as that. It’s not just about spring training numbers. It’s about track records. It’s about contract statuses. It’s about who has minor league options.

And ultimately, it’s about keeping as many pitchers in your organization as you can, knowing you’re going to need them all at some point during the long season.

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Nats still hoping quality lefty emerges for bullpen

martinez w ipad dugout

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In his perfect world, Davey Martinez would have a left-hander in his Opening Day bullpen. Two of them, actually.

By now, though, the Nationals manager probably realizes there’s no such thing as a perfect world. Certainly not when it comes to this specific area.

It’s been a near-annual struggle since Martinez joined the organization to find consistently effective left-handed relievers. He’s had 10 lefties make at least 10 appearances since 2018. Only two have produced an ERA under 4.00: Sean Doolittle and Brad Hand.

Hand, of course, was only here for four months during the 2021 season before he was traded to the Blue Jays. And Doolittle, while dominant at times, has dealt with multiple injuries and is currently attempting to return from elbow surgery that limited him to five games last season.

The Nats, ideally, would love to develop guys from within their own farm system. And they believe they have two such candidates in big league camp this spring in Jose Ferrer and Matt Cronin. Each has shown promise through the first two weeks of exhibition play. Then each struggled mightily Thursday night during a 9-0 loss to Team Israel.

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