With confidence and swagger, Machado rising to occasion

As he sauntered off the mound, having just struck out a $300 million hitter to strand the bases loaded and preserve a two-run lead for his team, Andrés Machado looked every bit the part of an established, high leverage, big league reliever. He did not look anything like a guy who had been designated for assignment by the Nationals twice in the last year.

How far Machado has come in a short amount of time, having survived a roller coaster of a season to emerge now as one of the Nats’ most trusted arms to get big outs late in games. And none was as big as the one he got Friday night during an 8-7 victory over the Phillies.

Summoned out of the bullpen with two on, one out and the middle of the order coming up in the top of the seventh, Machado proceeded to strike out Nick Castellanos before walking Bryson Stott to load the bases and bring Trea Turner to the plate.

Turner may be having a hugely disappointing debut season in Philadelphia after signing a monster contract, but the former Nationals star is still capable of changing a game with one swing. So when Machado got ahead in the count 1-2 and then got Turner to whiff at a slider, he reacted the only way he knew how: Walking off the mound like a guy who believes he’s the best.

“I was getting ready for the moment,” he said. “I’ve been pitching in that kind of situation, and I just prepared myself for that situation. I tried to do my best, and I saved that run.”

This has become the norm out of the blue for Machado, whom the Nationals dropped from their 40-man roster twice already this year: During the offseason when they needed to clear a spot for outfielder Corey Dickerson, then again in June when his ERA stood at 8.47.

That feels like eons ago now. Since clearing waivers, reporting to Triple-A Rochester and ultimately earning a promotion back to D.C. in late July, Machado has made 13 appearances and allowed three total runs. He has 15 strikeouts and only three walks. And he has made a habit out of recording big outs in big spots, thanks in large part to a sharp-tailing two-seam fastball that has become unhittable.

“He’s just being ultra-aggressive,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Using his fastball. Really focusing on not making mistakes. … His fastball’s electric. We’ve told him every time he’s been with us: ‘You’ve got to use it more. You put yourself in bad situations because you throw sliders, you throw changeups. The key is to get ahead and stay ahead. And when you do that, your stuff plays.’”

Confidence in the fastball has helped Machado have confidence in himself. He’s learning not to let the pressure of a big showdown get the best of him.

“I enjoy the moment, so I control myself,” he said. “I control the adrenaline that I can have in that moment and just think: 'Get the out and get out of the situation.'”

And when it all comes together in a big spot like it did Friday night, who can blame Machado for sauntering off the mound with the swagger of a far more accomplished reliever?

“I mean, he’s totally fearless,” closer Kyle Finnegan said. “Biggest situation, runners on base, one out, and he comes in and attacks the zone with his best stuff. He’s getting huge strikeouts and just walks off the field like it’s nothing. He’s been a lot of fun to watch. He’s a bulldog, totally fearless out there. And I think we all build off that momentum when he does something like that.”

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