With a late seven-run lead, Nationals manager Davey Martinez was certainly hoping that he wouldn’t have to go to his closer to finish out the game. But when the bullpen unraveled yet again, he had no choice but to call on Sean Doolittle.
However, reliever Austen Williams was unable to record an out in the ninth, allowing four straight hits, including two-run shots from Gerardo Parra and Steven Duggar that cut the Nats’ lead to 9-6.
Kyle Barraclough was summoned and induced a groundout by Joe Panik for the first out.
Martinez decided to then go to Doolittle. But Buster Posey doubled and Brandon Belt walked to bring the tying run to the plate with only one out.
“That happened really fast,” said Martinez. “You guys saw it. Everybody saw it. It happened. The biggest thing is to have to use Doolittle up seven there in the ninth was tough, but we had to close out the game. I figured if we could use Barraclough and tried to get an out, keep Doolittle’s pitch count down, we could use him tomorrow.
“We will see tomorrow. But we had to win that game.”
Doolittle struck out Brandon Crawford and forced Evan Longoria to pop out to Suzuki in foul territory behind home plate to end the game. The Nats survived with a 9-6 victory.
“When you’re pitching that closer role, you can never really check out and you have to stay in the game mentally if something does happen,” Doolittle said. “Often times, it happens really quick and it kind of snowballs. The momentum is kind of all on their side and you have to be able to get ready quick.
“I went through my whole routine. I was ready to go. I was probably ready to go by the time Barraclough was in the game while he was doing his warm-ups. You have some much adrenaline when that phone call rings in that situation that I was able to get ready in 10 pitches.”
“Physically, I felt fine, I felt good. Mentally, it was a little bit chaotic. It was a little but crazy there for a minute, but that’s an occupational hazard when you are a reliever.”
Unfortunately for Doolittle this season, he has had to come into games in non-save situations. He still is 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA with one save in two save opportunities and has finished seven games.
“Yeah, a couple of times. But again, that’s part of my job,” Doolittle said. “That’s the life of a reliever. I’ve had enough practice pitching in enough different roles that I can get ready really quick. I start moving around in the sixth inning every game, so by the time that phone rings in the eighth or ninth inning, I usually have a pretty good sweat going, I’m loose. It doesn’t take me very long, especially with the energy and adrenaline going that you get when that phone rings.”
The bottom line is Martinez knows what he has in his closer, but he needs other guys in the bullpen to step up. Otherwise, they will burn through Doolittle before the All-Star break.
“Doolittle is going to close games,” Martinez said. “(Wander) Suero is actually pitching really well. Barraclough is starting to pitch better. His sinker was really good today. Matty Grace came in and got a big out. The other guys have got to get in there and they have to get involved, they have to pitch. We need all those guys.”
Martinez tried to explain to the bullpen what its ultimate focus must be: “When you guys come in the game, your job, no matter what inning it is, is to hold the game the way it is. Whether we are down two, up two, just give our offense a chance to put more runs on the board. And you know what? They did that today.”