After Ross’ early departure, Petit saves Nationals bullpen

MIAMI - It’s a thankless job, one that rarely places a guy in position to be the star of a ballgame. Yusmeiro Petit has made a good living out of long relief, though, and nobody takes more pride in doing that job well than the 31-year-old right-hander.

So when he does get the rare opportunity to make a difference like he did tonight during the Nationals’ 3-1 victory over the Marlins, tossing four innings of one-run ball after starter Joe Ross departed with a blister, Petit deserves all the credit and praise that comes his way.

“Phenomenal,” said closer Jonathan Papelbon, who ensured Petit’s win with a scoreless ninth. “In my opinion, Petit’s job - the long man out of the bullpen - it’s the hardest job in baseball. Bar none, I think. But he’s a consummate pro and he’s played this game for a long time and knows how to command that role well.”

Petit indeed knows how to do this, and Nationals fans surely haven’t forgotten the six scoreless innings he threw against them on a fateful October night in 2014 against the Giants. So when the opportunity to acquire him arose this winter, the Nats pounced on him and made him a key piece of their overhauled bullpen.

Petit hadn’t been needed much to date, having made only three prior appearances totaling 4 1/3 innings, mostly because he needed the work to stay fresh while the Nationals rotation was dominating each night.

Petit-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgBut when Ross developed a blister on his right middle finger early in tonight’s game, Petit was told to get ready. Ross wound up pitching two scoreless innings and even hit for himself in the top of the third, but the club decided not to take any more chances with the blister.

“It’s happened a few times over the past couple, four years maybe,” Ross said. “Usually, I just have to shave the callus down, but it kind of got a little too long, just blistered up on me. ... I think it should be fine, hopefully. I guess worse comes to worst, I just skip one (start) and have it be 100 percent for the next one.”

So Petit entered for the bottom of the third, with the Nationals leading 2-0. He then proceeded to pick up right where Ross left off, cruising through his four innings on a scant 43 pitches, his only mistake a solo homer by Derek Dietrich.

“That’s part of my role,” Petit said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I need to be prepared for that. And in an emergency like today, I have to be prepared to go as long as they need me. Luckily, I was able to do it today.”

In making it through the sixth, Petit bridged the gap between Ross and the back end of the bullpen on a night when manager Dusty Baker desperately hoped he didn’t need to burn up his entire relief corps.

“Boy, we were kind of sitting at the edge of our seats, but that’s why we got Petit,” Baker said. “I saw him do it a whole bunch of times with the Giants. He saved the Giants, and he saved our bullpen.”

For Petit, it was just another day at the office.

“I feel very comfortable in this role,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for a while, and I’ve been getting used to it and I’ve had a lot of success. I like the urgency that I feel when preparing to come in, not knowing when I’m going to come in. It’s helped me have a lot of success.”

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