Frustrating as Friday night’s 4-1 loss was, the Nationals perhaps could take some solace knowing this: While the Astros had to burn up five relievers, including three of their top guys, the Nats used only three low-leverage bullpen arms.
And that could prove significant tonight in Game 4 of the World Series, especially when considering the two teams’ pitching plans.
The Nationals will start Patrick Corbin, who threw one inning of relief in Game 1 but is rested enough to top the 100-pitch mark. The Astros will start Jose Urquidy, who probably won’t be allowed to go more than four or five innings at most, at which point they’ll have to turn it over to a bullpen that saw a lot of action Friday night.
Though they scratched out only one run off Zack Greinke in Game 3, the Nationals did make the veteran right-hander throw 95 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. That forced Houston manager A.J. Hinch to seek 4 1/3 innings out of five relievers: Josh James, Brad Peacock, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna.
The Astros already planned all along to throw a bullpen game tonight, with Urquidy starting but not sticking around for long. Now they’ll have to use several of the relievers they already used Friday night, the Nationals having gotten a good look at them.
“I think that was huge,” Ryan Zimmerman said, “to grind Zack out a little bit, get his pitch count up and get him out of there in the fifth and make some of those guys come in and throw. Obviously it’s the World Series, so I think a lot of those guys will pitch. But to be able to make them throw some pitches, it’s definitely a positive.”
The Nationals managed only two hits off Houston’s relievers in Game 3, but they believe they’ll be in a better position tonight for simply having seen what they’ve got. The only leading member of the Astros ‘pen that didn’t pitch was right-hander Ryan Pressly, who gave up four runs during the Nats’ seventh-inning rally in Game 2 at Minute Maid Park.
“They’re trying to win a game,” manager Davey Martinez said of his counterparts. “Those guys ... hey, look, I’ve said this before: Every game, you play to win every game. So they did that tonight. That bullpen knows what they’re playing for. Those guys will be rested, and they’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
The Nationals bullpen, at least the key members who pitch the late innings, will be even more rested. Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey all watched Game 3 from behind the right field wall while Fernando Rodney, Joe Ross and Wander Suero pitched with their team trailing.
The Nats didn’t suffer from using those three right-handers. They combined to pitch 3 2/3 scoreless innings, with only one batter reaching base, that on an infield single.
“I’m really proud of the way the bullpen came out today and pitched,” Martinez said. “Joe was outstanding. Suero was really good. Rodney came in and got out of a jam for us. They pitched well.”
Ross’ two scoreless innings were perhaps the surprise highlight of the night. The right-hander had been left off the active roster throughout the National League Division and Championship Series, but was added for the World Series instead of Austin Voth, who never did appear in a game.
Given Ross’ immense struggles as a reliever this season - he posted a ghastly 11.17 ERA in 18 games, compared to a 3.02 ERA in nine starts - it seemed like a major gamble. But in his first appearance of any kind in nearly a month, he retired six of the seven batters he faced.
“It felt good,” Ross said. “The first two series, not being on the roster, just kind of worked on some stuff and then got an opportunity to throw here. It kind of paid off. I’m feeling good. Hopefully, I get another chance tomorrow.”
If things go as planned, the Nationals will hope they don’t need Ross - or any of the guys who pitched Friday night - en route to a Game 4 victory.