CLEVELAND - Ballclubs can plan a season out, think they have everything set as they prefer, even have contingencies in place in case something goes awry. But sometimes they still have to adjust on the fly and go with something that may not have been their preferred course of action but became necessary to attempt to win that day’s game.
The Nationals thought they had most everything planned out properly this season, and even well into the summer. But when things started to go awry in the last week, and certainly in the previous 48 hours, Dusty Baker had no choice but to tweak a few things.
Perhaps today’s 4-1 victory over the Indians still would have been possible without Trea Turner leading off and playing center field, or without Blake Treinen getting the ball in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run at the plate. But Baker wasn’t going to take a chance otherwise, and so it was that the 23-year-old infielder-turned-outfielder and 28-year-old starter-turned-reliever wound up two of the biggest contributors to what amounted to a must-win game for the Nationals.
“It was a big getaway day for us,” said Baker, whose club is now on its way to San Francisco for a tough weekend series with the Giants. “There’s some teams that are winning behind us. We don’t want to look behind us. We just want to keep (looking) forward and keep winning.”
The Nationals head west holding a four-game lead over the Marlins in the NL East, with the Mets lurking right behind. They have plenty of significant question marks still facing them as the calendar inches toward August - Will they acquire a new closer before Monday’s trade deadline? How long will they stick with struggling veterans Ryan Zimmerman and Ben Revere? What on earth can be done to snap Bryce Harper out of a slump that gets worse with each passing day? - but they are still sitting in better position than most.
And as they showed this afternoon, they are willing to try some new things in an attempt to win.
Turner is among the prime examples. With Revere mired in a season-long funk at the plate, Baker decided to give his rookie an opportunity to start his first two career games in the outfield. Turner responded by reaching base in six of his nine plate appearances, with two doubles, a single, a walk, a stolen base and three RBIs.
“I was told ... that he’s an impact player,” Baker said. “He’s made his impact felt in a short period of time he’s been here.”
Turner’s preeminent skill is his speed, which makes him a prototypical table-setter atop the lineup. But today he also showed he can be a run producer, twice delivering run-scoring hits with two outs, accounting for three of the Nats’ four runs.
“He’s a really good hitter,” said no less an authority than the .354-hitting Daniel Murphy. “He’s not giving away pitches. He’s leveraging the count in his favor. ... He’s fun to watch right now. He’s really putting a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Despite his lack of big league experience, Turner shows an advanced approach at the plate, understanding how to deal with clutch situations.
“I feel like I always try really hard when people are in scoring position,” he said. “A lot of times (with) a man on third, just put the ball in play, I try really hard and end up doing something stupid. (Today) I was just looking for the ball up, looking for something to put the barrel on, keep it simple.”
Turner’s big hits, along with Murphy’s 20th homer of the season, produced the Nationals’ four runs for the afternoon. Stephen Strasburg did his part on the mound, tossing seven scoreless innings on 110 pitches.
That still left the Nationals’ beleaguered bullpen, however, to finish this one off. And that has been quite a challenge in recent days.
With Jonathan Papelbon off after working four of the last five days (and suffering two losses along the way) and Shawn Kelley available only if absolutely necessary due to his heavy workload, Baker decided to play matchups to record the game’s final six outs.
Sammy Solis and Matt Belisle got through the eighth inning unscathed, but Felipe Rivero gave up a run on two hits and a walk in the ninth. Thus, it was left to Treinen to pitch his team out of a two-on, one-out jam, with the tying run at the plate.
Treinen had never closed a game in a save situation before, but the right-hander knew he was well-suited for this situation because of his ability to induce groundballs thanks to a heavy sinker that teammates rave about.
“If he executes the pitch, it doesn’t really matter if the hitter knows that it’s coming or is anticipating it,” Strasburg said. “It’s just got that kind of life to it. It’s almost like you could tell ‘em that it’s coming, and just execute the pitch and be OK.”
Sure enough, even though he knew all too well what would be coming out of Treinen’s hand, Cleveland’s Roberto Perez couldn’t help but roll a groundball to second. Murphy scooped it up and started the 4-6-3 double play that ended this game and secured Treinen’s first career save.
“That’s my goal coming in: Get a double play,” Treinen said. “We’ve got a good defense behind us. And then game’s over, we won. That’s nice.”