MIAMI - Some leftover thoughts and observations to bridge the gap between last night’s 3-1 victory and this afternoon’s series finale at Marlins Park ...
* Yusmeiro Petit got most of the attention last night, and deservedly so for his four innings of relief after Joe Ross departed with a blister on his middle finger. But let’s not overlook the rest of the Nationals bullpen, which finished what Petit started.
Oliver Perez retired the side in the seventh, striking out Giancarlo Stanton with a wicked curveball that made the Miami slugger look silly. Blake Treinen recorded another big double play, already the third he has induced in only 5 2/3 innings this season, to end the eighth. And Jonathan Papelbon (or “Johnny Jonathan” as he apparently thought MASN’s Dan Kolko called him in his postgame interview) rebounded from his blown save Sunday in Philadelphia with quite an impressive bottom of the ninth.
In that final inning, Papelbon retired the reigning National League batting champ (Dee Gordon) and a future Hall of Famer (Ichiro Suzuki). He did allow a two-out single to a burgeoning star (Christian Yelich), but then bounced back to strike out one of the most-feared sluggers in the game (Stanton).
That final encounter, with Stanton representing the tying run, was looming the entire inning.
“I was hoping that it ain’t get to that, which is always does,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Similar to days when you wanted Albert Pujols to be on-deck when the game ends because you’re counting at the end of the game. It’s like, ‘Man, we don’t want this guy to get up there because he can tie that game up with one swing, big time.’ But I tell you, Pap, he was dealing.”
Indeed, he was. Papelbon threw nothing but fastballs to Stanton, all of them 93-94 mph. The last one just caught the outside corner, freezing Stanton in his tracks as plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt rung him up to end the game.
Papelbon’s strategy for that at-bat?
“Just to go with my best stuff and not try to overthink,” he said. “Like I said earlier, that’s what got me in trouble my last appearance. I gotta go out there and throw my best stuff at the best time.”
* The Nationals didn’t do a whole lot at the plate last night, but they delivered a couple of big hits at just the right time.
Harper continues to dominate in these situations. With runners on base, he’s now 8-for-14 with four doubles, four homers and 18 RBIs.
Michael A. Taylor, meanwhile, delivered a key insurance run with a solo homer in the top of the fifth. The season’s first three weeks haven’t been kind to Taylor, who struck out in his three other at-bats last night and still sports a .185 batting average. But that home run was a particularly good sign because of the manner in which he drove the ball to right-center field.
“Well, that’s a good sign because that’s where he usually drives them,” Baker said. “That was big for him, and for us.”
* Look for at least a couple of regulars to get today’s game off. Baker already planned to sit Jayson Werth before the left fielder departed last night’s game early with a tight left hamstring. Don’t be surprised if Zimmerman is off as well, as Baker tries to manage his veterans’ playing time early in the season.
“I’m trying to get them all to the hot weather,” Baker said. “I’ve been saying that, that’s been my goal all along. Especially the older players like Jayson and Zim in particular. I’m trying to get those guys past the point where you’re not worried about them anymore.”