Unlikely Albers-Glover combo has stabilized Nationals bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO - Maybe everyone should have listened to Koda Glover a couple of weeks ago when the rookie reliever insisted the beleaguered Nationals bullpen would be just fine.

Glover reiterated that sentiment Tuesday night after closing out the Nationals' 6-3 victory over the Giants that included the latest in a string of dominant performances by this relief corps.

"What'd I tell you earlier? We're starting to roll. We're fine," Glover said. "Like I said when everybody was kind of freaking out a little bit, we're fine. It's baseball. It's going to happen. I know you know that. But it's one of those things where we're getting relaxed and we're ready to go."

Glover recorded the final three outs of Tuesday's win, but he wasn't a one-man show. Matt Albers recorded five key outs to get his team through both the seventh and eighth innings with a three-run lead intact.

Add this combined performance to the registry, and you've got a legitimately dominant stretch for the Nats bullpen.

Through the season's first 42 games, this group sported a 5.46 ERA, with eight blown saves, an opponent batting average of .287 and an opponent OPS of .846.

Through the last nine games, Nationals relievers own a 0.90 ERA. Opponents are batting .186 against them with a paltry .469 OPS.

"Things go in streaks," manager Dusty Baker said. "I still feel very confident in my bullpen. Quite honestly, I'm kind of tired of talking about it. Everybody wants to go on a day-to-day thing, and that's not how you do it. That's why you play six months of the season. We've played two months. We've still got two-thirds of the season left to go."

Whether it's coincidence or not, Glover's ascendance to the closer's role has mirrored the entire bullpen's return to form. The rookie right-hander is now 7-for-7 in ninth-inning save opportunities, having allowed one hit and zero walks in those games, striking out seven batters. Since returning from a brief stint on the disabled list earlier this month, Glover has retired 25 of 31 batters faced.

Tuesday's game presented a new challenge for the young reliever, who was pitching for the fourth time in five days. Baker has been saying he still needed to see how Glover handled that kind of workload, the kind of thing he never got in college or the minors. So far, so good.

"I'm pretty tired right now," Glover admitted. "It's one of those things where you've just got to fight through it. The cold weather kind of takes it out of you, too. Six-hour flight. All that stuff. It's one of those things where you've just got to grind through it. Luckily, I was able to do it."

matt-albers-white-celebrate.jpgGlover's rise to the closer's job is not totally unexpected. Many within the organization believed this would happen at some point this season.

But Albers' emergence as the club's next-best reliever was not expected by anyone. The journeyman right-hander didn't make the roster out of spring training despite a 0.00 ERA, but since his promotion one week into the season, he has been consistently excellent.

Albers now has pitched in 20 games, posting a 1.29 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. He has 18 strikeouts against only three walks. And he is being used more and more in high-leverage situations like Tuesday night's game, in which he recorded the final two outs of the seventh and then all three outs of the eighth to preserve the Nationals' lead.

"He's been good ever since spring training," Baker said. "He's been good to this point. He's had one or two hiccups along the way. That's going to happen to anybody. But he's throwing the ball good. He throws strikes, keeps the ball down and throws up double plays when we need them."

Glover and Albers are throwing partners during batting practice and have developed a friendship along the way. Who would've guessed in March they'd currently be the two most reliable relievers on a first-place club?

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