After Gio Gonzalez labored through 3 2/3 innings on an inefficient 100 pitches in the Nats' loss to the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, it must have been a breath of fresh air to see reliever Matt Belisle take over and record four outs on just seven pitches, including a perfect fifth inning, the final frame on defense for the Nats before their game was cut short due to rain.
Belisle even began the fifth by getting examined by trainer Paul Lessard and pitching coach Mike Maddux. They saw him grimace on several pitches, possibly due to a minor forearm issue he's been dealing with lately. Whatever it was, it didn't affect his results.
“Hey man, this guy’s a man – a very strong man physically and mentally," manager Dusty Baker said. "He said he was fine. I mean, this guy wants to pitch."
Baker said there are no lingering concerns about Belisle's forearm, which contributed to him not pitching from Sept. 8 until Sept. 25. They gave him a rest, but now he's back and has tossed three scoreless innings since.
"I mean, this guy’s a man. He’s what you think about when you think about a Texan," Baker said. "I’m serious.I knew him when he was a kid, in Cincinnati, and he was a man then. He wants the ball."
Belisle hasn't pitched much in recent weeks, but Baker's comments after Wednesday's loss shared insight into his chances to make the playoff roster. In short, he sounds like a lock.
"We have to make sure that he’s ready for the postseason because he’s had a very good year for us. Out of spring training, really wasn’t sure because he had a bad calf. Then he had a bad forearm there for awhile, but this guy has performed admirably."
Belisle, 36, now boasts a 1.76 ERA through 40 appearances this season. He beat the odds to make their Opening Day roster and has since turned into one of their most consistent bullpen arms.
"He’s had very good success against left-handers. You certainly need those guys come playoff time," Baker said.
Given those comments, it appears Belisle will be in store when the Nats face the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Also in in that mix will be Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis, Blake Treinen and Marc Rzepczynski.
That leaves little room for others - likely Sean Burnett, Reynaldo Lopez, Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit - to compete for the final spot or spots, depending on how many relievers they carry. Given there is one less starter with Stephen Strasburg's injury, that could open the door for two of those pitchers to make the roster.
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