Albers, Romero and Taylor shine in series-clinching win

For all the handwringing about the Nationals bullpen, they did a nice job of bouncing back in the Diamondbacks series.

In the Colorado series, the pitching staff allowed 29 runs in five games. Nineteen of those runs came in the late innings.

Against Arizona, the bullpen allowed two runs in the first game, none on Wednesday and one on Thursday.

The final scores of the last two games were 2-1 and 4-2. Far cry from the 23-5, 15-12 and 16-5 games they had been a part of within the last 10 days.

The bullpen is still a work in progress, but the in-season additions of Matt Albers and Jacob Turner have been solid steps forward.

Albers has allowed no runs in eight regular season appearances. On Thursday, he pitched a clean shutout inning in the eighth, allowing no hits, no walks and striking out one.

Manager Dusty Baker has liked what he has seen from the versatile veteran.

“Albers, he’s done about everything,” Baker said. “He’s come in late. He’s come in the middle. He throws strikes and he keeps the ball down. And he works quickly, which keeps your defense sharp and he’s probably the find of the year, probably.”

Turner bridged the game Wednesday for four shutout innings when the bullpen needed a rest. It was made even more important after finding out the news that Shawn Kelley has been sick for most of the series against Arizona and is still a question mark as the team transitions to Philadelphia.

Romero-Throws-Red-Sidebar.jpgIn steps flamethrowing Enny Romero, who had been hittable early in the season and unable to find the strike zone on a consistent basis. Thursday he pitched the rest of the ninth inning after Joe Blanton had allowed a leadoff solo homer. He proceeded to strike out the first two hitters, allowed a single and then a groundout to end the game. All the time hitting 100 mph with his fastball and throwing strikes.

“Yeah, because he’s throwing strikes, too,” Baker agreed. “And he’s getting more comfortable with himself out there. He’s throwing the ball excellent and his confidence is growing daily.”

Romero believes his new arm positioning and the confidence he gained in his work at New York two weeks ago have paid dividends to how he feels now.

“I am more confident,” Romero said. “With more outings I have from New York, I feel more comfortable. I throw strikes in the game like the situation like the game in New York, 3-1, and here, same situation. I just come in to throw strikes. I attack the hitter. That’s the only way I want to throw strikes. I throw strikes and more opportunity to save I hope.”

Romero had two appearances in New York in which he kept the Mets off the board. He has not allowed a run in three of his last four opportunities.

Was it particularly meaningful to Romero to notch that first save with the Nats?

“That’s good. I prove myself now and the team,” Romero said. “That’s (why) they trade for me. They wanted me put in that situation. That’s where I want to throw strikes and keep myself in the game all the time.”

Baker acknowledged that the bullpen was not completely in it’s best spot this week because of the Kelley sickness and the inability to use A.J. Cole’s spot because he was finishing his three-game suspension dating from last season. So that made it even more important for starter Max Scherzer to give the club seven solid innings. He allowed only one run and struck out a season-high 11 batters.

“That affects it immensely because you can almost go full bullpen the day before he pitches and then usually he gives the majority of the bullpen rest for the next game,” Baker noted. “He affects it before he pitches and after he pitches, and that’s what aces do. Not only do they win and match up against other aces, but they preserve the bullpen.”

* Center fielder Michael A. Taylor is enjoying a nice run since his pinch-hit single in Denver last Thursday. Yesterday he went 2-for-2 with two walks and two stolen bases.

“Michael’s putting the ball in play,” Baker said. “He always plays good defense. He can steal a base and he’s using the whole field and he’s not popping up and not taking a lot going deep into counts. And then he gets a hit the first time up on the first pitch and then after that, they start throwing more breaking balls and start being more careful and that leads to walks.”

He is now hitting .275 after starting season 1-for-20. You don’t ever want to see a player hurt like Adam Eaton, but everyday playing time helps.

“It’s always a struggle. Everyone wants to do well,” Taylor said. “And you go out there when you don’t get a ton of consistent opportunities. When you do have that opportunity, you obviously want to perform. And sometimes that’s not the best way to go about it. For me, it’s just about being relaxed and kind of letting the game come to me.

“It takes some of the pressure off,” Taylor said of everyday starts. “The biggest thing is it’s a lot easier to get your timing down when you have consistent at-bats and see pitching.”

He also displayed his patience with the two free passes.

“I think I’m naturally an aggressive hitter,” Taylor continued. “When I go up there relaxed I can have a pretty good feel for the strike zone. Right now I’m just trying to get a good pitch to hit and not try to do too much with it.”

He was also able to steal his first two bases of the season. Just like Trea Turner, with more playing time, you’d expect those numbers to jump up as the season goes on.

“I like to think that’s part of my game,” Taylor said. “I’m going to be aggressive on the basepaths whenever the game allows it. (First base coach) Davey (Lopes) helps me a lot with reads and things like that.”

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