Bullpen struggles overshadow Austin Voth's shining start in another Nationals loss


WASHINGTON -- Before the Nationals’ 10-1 loss Saturday to the rival Atlanta Braves, Davey Martinez tabbed Wander Suero as his go-to choice for early innings out of the bullpen. 

"I love his cutter on a lefty," Martinez said. "And he's got a pretty good changeup as of late, so he'd be our guy."

But, when the phone rang in Washington's bullpen and he made his way to the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a runner on base and the Nationals ahead 1-0 thanks to an Anthony Rendon double in the first, Suero didn't seem like the "guy" for the job. 

Albies scored two batters later, after two consecutive singles from the middle of Atlanta's lineup. One mound visit later, Suero secured that elusive third out, and a glimmer of hope remained for Washington fans in a 1-1 game. 

Then, two seventh-inning walks and another mound visit later, Suero left the mound and retreated to the Nationals dugout with boos echoing out from the crowd. 

"I had to," Martinez said after the game when asked why he brought in Suero. "Suero's come in in those moments before, and we had that one set up...he just couldn't throw strikes, couldn't locate his cutter. As we all know when you walk in this league you're going to pay the price, when you don't throw strikes and get hit you're going to pay the price." 

After Suero's rough outing, Fernando Rodney completely changed the tone of Saturday's game. 

When Rodney threw his first pitch, Atlanta pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson bent down to bunt but instead was hit in the face by the pitch. Then, while arguing the umpiring crew's call to asses Culberson a strike, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was ejected. 

The Braves scored four runs in the inning, all earned, with two charged to Suero and two to Rodney. The damage came from a pair of doubles from the top of Atlanta's lineup and a single from Nick Markakis. 

By the end of the night, Erick Fedde had also contributed to the unit's rough night, as the group allowed a combined nine runs on 10 hits and five walks. 

"We need these guys," Martinez said. "We need these guys in this stretch and they understand that." 

Part of why Washington's bullpen struggled revolved around its inability to shut down Atlanta's most potent hitters, an area in which Nationals starter Austin Voth had succeeded.

In his 5 2/3 innings of work, Voth induced 20 swinging strikes on just 80 pitches. Every one of the right-hander's six strikeouts were swinging, including two from Ronald Acuña Jr. strikeouts and one from Freddie Freeman.

"I talked with [catcher] Raudy Read multiple times...even in the dugout after every inning we were talking about how we want to approach every batter,” Voth said. “I felt like with all my pitches, fastball, curveball, changeup--slider wasn't the greatest but I felt like I had decent command of all of them."

There were only two innings in which Voth seemed to struggle on the mound: the fifth and sixth. Admittedly, the righty said he started to tire and, though he wanted to keep pitching, he knew Martinez's decision to go to the bullpen was the right choice. 

He was saved in the fifth inning when Ryan Zimmerman snagged a sharp line drive and ran to tag first base, turning an unassisted double play. Voth's defense came to his aid in the sixth as well, but after a single and two fly-outs too close to the wall for comfort, the starter's evening ended and the dysfunctional bullpen's night began. 

"It was two different sides of the spectrum," Martinez said. "[Voth] threw strikes, got ahead of hitters and made his pitches. Simple. He was really good, real effective. His ball had a little life."

Washington struggled to plate anything other than their early run. 

"We've just got to come back out and regroup," Martinez said. "We only scored one run--we scored one run in two games so we've got to start hitting." 

With the loss, the Nationals' lead in the NL Wild Card race falls to just 1 1/2 games. On the other side of the field, the Braves' victory clinched a postseason berth.