Slowly but surely, Davey Martinez has begun to entrust high-leverage situations to Tanner Rainey. But this was the highest-leverage situation to date, considering the score, the opponent and the overall stakes.
With the Nationals up 3-1 in the top of the eighth Wednesday afternoon, and the top of the Phillies lineup set to bat, Martinez handed the ball to Rainey and watched to see how the rookie reliever would handle the pressure.
The answer: He handled it quite well, pitching out of a self-made jam to preserve the slim lead and ultimately send the Nationals on their way to a key win in the opener of their day-night doubleheader against a division rival.
“He’s been real good,” Martinez said. “What I know about him is he’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s not afraid. He goes out there and he’s going to attack.”
Rainey had pitched the eighth inning twice in the last few weeks, but each time the Nationals held a four-run lead at the time. He also wasn’t facing a lineup of Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto.
It wasn’t a perfectly clean inning of work. Rainey walked Harper on five pitches, then later drilled Hoskins with a 98 mph fastball. But with two on, two out and the dangerous Realmuto at the plate with the game on the line, the right-hander managed to regain his composure.
“Just kind of step back and see the situation,” he said. “It’s late in the game. Two-run game, the goal is always to come in the game, leave the game with the same score. So just kind of step away from it, refocus, get everything going back with the right train of thought, and go after them.”
That’s what Rainey did. He got Realmuto to ground out, quashing the threat and notching the most important eighth-inning hold of a burgeoning career that he believes he was ready to assume.
“As soon as I got moved back to the bullpen in 2016 (in the Reds’ minor league system), it was always later in the game,” he said. “Kind of short relief, one inning, maybe one-plus at a time. That’s nothing new. But earning that trust from Davey was huge.”