Bullpen implodes late in Nationals’ 10-6 loss to Padres

If the current back end of the Nationals bullpen wanted to convince general manager Mike Rizzo that he doesn’t need to make any major acquisitions before next week’s trade deadline, this wasn’t the way to do it.

Shawn Kelley and Jonathan Papelbon combined to give up six runs in the eighth and ninth innings this afternoon, turning a two-run lead into a 10-6 loss to the Padres that might have underscored this first place club’s biggest weakness entering the final week of July.

Jonathan Papelbon white.pngHanded a 6-4 lead in the top of the eighth, Kelley proceeded to give up back-to-back homers to Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf, leaving the game tied heading to the ninth. Papelbon entered in a non-save situation and gave up the eventual winning run via a walk, a wild pitch and Yangervis Solarte’s RBI single. He then gave up three more runs on a bases-clearing double by Alexei Ramirez, pouring more gasoline on the fire and leaving what remained of a crowd of 30,663 booing upon his departure.

The Nationals, who with a win were poised to capture this weekend series and possibly match the Cubs for the majors’ best record, instead wound up dropping the finale of their long homestand and now head out on a nine-game road trip that wraps around the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

Lost amid the late-game dramatics was another disappointing start by Lucas Giolito, who three outings into his career has offered up more questions than answers. The 22-year-old has failed to reach the fifth inning in all three of his starts. The first was a result of rain; the last two have been a result of ineffectiveness and perhaps an emptied gas tank.

Giolito labored again today in oppressive, 96-degree heat. Despite retiring the first six batters he faced, he proceeded to let eight of the final 11 he faced reach safely. That included solid contact by Wil Myers (two-run single) and Schimpf (RBI single) and three walks with zero strikeouts.

Manager Dusty Baker took the ball from his young starter after back-to-back walks in the fourth, entrusting the rest of the game to his bullpen, which for most of the afternoon delivered in impressive fashion.

Matt Belisle pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Giolito to bridge the gap to the back end of the Nationals bullpen. Oliver Perez and Blake Treinen got out of a seventh-inning jam.

But Kelley, perhaps the club’s most reliable reliever this season, couldn’t get through the eighth unscathed. Papelbon couldn’t get through the ninth untouched. And the Nationals lineup couldn’t make up the difference.

The lineup had done a solid job to that point, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos. With Bryce Harper getting a rare day off from the starting lineup, Murphy and Ramos found themselves batting 3-4 in Baker’s lineup. They combined to go 6 for their first 7, with a sacrifice fly, two doubles, a homer and five RBIs.

But Murphy and Ramos’ teammates couldn’t do their part much of the afternoon. With the go-ahead runner on third and one out in the bottom of the eighth, Chris Heisey popped up and Michael A. Taylor struck out swinging at a 2-2 fastball at his eyelids.

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