With injuries ravaging lineup, bullpen finally carrying Nats

SAN DIEGO - Eleven of their players currently reside on the disabled list, including the leading candidate for National League MVP, the leading candidate for the Cy Young Award, last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up, the franchise's veteran leader and a key reliever with a 1.68 ERA.

Their ace was a late scratch from his scheduled start Friday night, leaving the club with no time to get a replacement starter flown in from the East Coast. Their All-Star second baseman was a late scratch from Saturday's game after their manager noticed his body had been dragging from his workload.

All of this should have added up to a disastrous weekend for the Nationals. Instead, they won three of four against the Padres, merely the latest example of a team that hasn't let injuries or constant lineup changes derail its season.

Baker-Points-Gray-Sidebar.jpg"The main thing is that we pitch well," manager Dusty Baker said following Sunday's 4-1 victory. "And if you pitch well, then you don't need as much offense. You've seen lately we haven't had the same kind of offense that we usually have. But we're finding ways to win games. It starts with the pitching. We've got good pitching every day. These guys are just trying to find a way to win."

The Nationals do keep finding ways to win, no matter the cast of characters. For four months, they asked the league's most productive lineup to carry the load and cover for a struggling bullpen. Now, with the lineup far less than 100 percent due to injuries, they're asking their pitching staff to pick it up, and that group has responded in impressive fashion.

The Nats rotation has been strong throughout. The bullpen, however, has completely transformed itself from the team's biggest problem to a sudden strength.

Since July 16, the day general manager Mike Rizzo acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Athletics, the Nationals relief corps ranks fifth in the majors in ERA (3.18), third in strikeout rate (10.1 per nine innings), second in WHIP (1.07) and tied for first in opponents' OPS (.593) and save conversion rate (100 percent).

This weekend only bolstered those numbers. The Nationals bullpen, despite being asked to pitch all nine innings Friday night when Max Scherzer was scratched with a neck injury, tossed a total of 15 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and five walks, striking out 16.

"I think this series, the bullpen, unbelievable," second baseman Daniel Murphy said. "It was absolutely unbelievable. ... We didn't necessarily swing the bats as well as we probably would've liked, but the pitching staff did an unbelievable job. I think they're the reason why we were able to win the series."

Opposite dugout: Despite injuries, Astros coasting...
Gonzalez goes the extra mile to earn 12th win of t...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/