SAN DIEGO - There are any number of factors a manager must consider when filling out a lineup card, but the identity of the opponent’s starting pitcher typically is high on the list.
What, though, does a manager do when the opponent’s starting pitcher is a reliever who threw an inning the previous night and is scheduled to be the first of a parade of arms coming out of the bullpen?
That’s the dilemma Davey Martinez faced this morning as he selected a batting order for the Nationals’ series finale against the Padres, who are starting Luis Perdomo but don’t know how much they’re going to get from the right-hander before they turn to the rest of their relief corps to fill out nine innings.
Martinez decided to go with a lefty-heavy lineup, including Matt Adams at first base and Gerardo Parra in center field. But that’s a reflection not only of Perdomo’s pending start but also the makeup of the San Diego bullpen.
“We always talk about trying to beat the starter first,” Martinez said. “They’ve got a righty in there. I don’t know how long he’s going to go. And then also I look at their bullpen, and they have one lefty in the bullpen (Robbie Erlin). For me, I just play the lefties. The lefty they do have seems like he’s a guy with even splits. So we should fare well.”
Martinez also had to consider the state of his own roster of position players. Howie Kendrick has been among his most consistently productive hitters, but Martinez has been wary of playing the 35-year-old too much given the leg injuries he has dealt with the last two seasons. Kendrick already started the first three games of this series, and with a quick turnaround to today’s finale, he’ll sit on the bench and be available for a pinch-hit matchup at some point.
In the end, it can be easy to get too caught up in matchups and trying to think ahead to the opposition’s pitching plan on a day like this. At some point, it just becomes about putting the best available lineup out there.
“That’s exactly right,” Martinez said. “I just try to run the guys out there. I knew I wanted to give Howie the day off anyway. Just run the guys out that I think we’re going to score early and often and let it play out, see what happens.”
Update: They did it without benefit of a hit, and with a major gift by the Padres defense, but the Nationals took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Trea Turner lofted the very first pitch of the game toward second base, as routine a popup as you’ll ever see. And then Ian Kinsler took the most casual approach to catching a routine popup as you’ll ever see and promptly dropped it. Turner wound up on second base, and that allowed him to score on a couple of productive groundouts by Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon. And so, for the 17th time in their last 18 games, the Nationals hold a lead. They’ve only gone 10-7 in those previous 17 games. We’ll see if they can hold this particular lead today.
Update II: Stephen Strasburg has pitched well today, but he’s also had to pitch out of a lot of trouble, some of his own making, some of it not his fault at all. But the Nationals defense, despite some struggles, also turned in a big 6-4 3 double play to get the speedy Fernando Tatis Jr. and escape a fifth-inning jam. The Padres did get on the board the previous frame via a pair of two-out hits sandwiched around a wild pitch. So it’s 1-1 heading to the sixth.
Update III: How would you like back-to-back homers from the Nationals? How about back-to-back-to-back homers? How about back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers? Yep, they hit four homers in a row in the top of the eighth, all off former teammate Craig Stammen. Howie Kendrick got things started with a pinch-hit laser to left. Turner and Eaton then each went deep to center. Rendon then capped it off with an opposite-field shot to right-center. It’s only the second time in club history the Nats have hit four consecutive homers, previously done July 27, 2017 against the Brewers. It’s now 5-1 as Kyle Barraclough enters from the pen to pitch the bottom of the eighth.