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Bullpen’s first tight night without closer Sean Doolittle does not go well

Bullpen’s first tight night without closer Sean Doolittle does not go well

Tuesday was the first night that mattered without Sean Doolittle. Sunday and Monday blowouts made being without the closer moot. Stephen Strasburg’s dominance -- seven innings, four hits, six strikeouts, no earned runs -- paired with the offense’s sudden dormancy to produce a 1-0 game going into the eighth inning Tuesday. It was time to take a look at the Nationals’ bullpen without Doolittle. 

Fluctuating Wander Suero was brought in for the eighth. He loaded the bases without recording an out. Daniel Hudson was called in to fix the mess. He allowed a sacrifice fly and three-run homer. Nationals lose, 4-1. 

This is not a panic-in-the-streets loss by any means. The offensive numbers were bound to level -- for a night and beyond. It was, however, a reminder things don’t automatically improve after the struggling closer is extracted from the equation. Washington did not bring in high-end closers with extensive track records at the trade deadline. It acquired three arms which were improvements over the in-house options. All had closed before. None were paid to do so for a competitive team.

Davey Martinez faced a wrinkle when deciding how to deploy his relievers in Pittsburgh. Hunter Strickland’s weight-lifting accident broke his nose. He tweeted about the incident, said he was ready to pitch, however, the manager likely preferred to leave Strickland resting his readjusted schnoz in the bullpen. Which meant Suero came in.

Suero has become a split personality on the mound. He either uses his cutter to saw through an inning with surprising effectiveness or is a mess instantly endangering the game’s outcome. Of his 58 appearances, 42 have been scoreless. Doesn’t feel like it. Why? Because Suero has allowed two runs or more in eight of them. That’s plenty to skew a reliever’s ERA. His is back up to 4.97 after Hudson’s failure to limit inherited baserunners from scoring, which he had done expertly this season. Just two of 32 inherited runners (six percent) had scored against Hudson this year. Three came in Tuesday.

There is one other aspect here to note: When Doolittle went on the injured list Sunday, Martinez was asked repeatedly about his usage. His most common answer referenced the simplistic fact “Doolittle is the closer” with little explanation beyond that. Doolittle pitched more than an inning in seven of his 54 appearances this season. He was rarely brought into the situation Hudson was Tuesday.

That usage showed more flexibility. The best pitcher available was brought in at the most crucial point to face the toughest part of a light-hitting lineup. This was done on occasion, and partly, with Doolittle. Tuesday, it was sent out the best arm to try and hold the situation, then figure out the rest. This strategy pervades baseball. It just caught up in Washington.

It also didn’t work. 

So, night one without Doolittle was a failure. Recent nights with him had run a similar course, too. There are at least seven more to go.

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Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen claims the Mets have "probably the deepest rotation in baseball

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen claims the Mets have "probably the deepest rotation in baseball

By signing Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha this week, the Mets have built out quite the collection of starting pitchers. 

Porcello and Wacha will join Jacob de Grom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz in New York's starting rotation, a group general manager Brodie Van Wagenen thinks quite highly of. 

"There was a lot talked about our lack of starting pitching depth over the last couple of weeks," Van Wagenen said on SNYtv Thursday. "I think that story has changed, and I think that we're probably the deepest starting pitching rotation in baseball."

Considering the Mets share a division with the Nationals, who still boast a starting rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, this is a pretty bold statement by Van Wagenen. 

Obviously he's the general manager and he has to say positive things about the club he's putting together. But to say those exact words on the heels of a rival winning a World Series because of their rotation? 

The Mets will host the Nationals in the first series of the season starting on March 26, so we may not have to wait long for these two rotations to face off. 

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Nationals prospect Sterling Sharp selected by Marlins in Rule 5 Draft

Nationals prospect Sterling Sharp selected by Marlins in Rule 5 Draft

The Nationals' No. 13 overall prospect is no longer in the organization, and it's not because of a trade that Washington made.

That's because the Miami Marlins selected pitcher Sterling Sharp with the No. 3 overall pick during Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Sharp was susceptible to being drafted after the Nationals chose not to protect him by placing the right-hander on their 40-man roster.

The Marlins will pay Washington $100,000 for Sharp. The 24-year-old most remain on Miami's 25-man MLB roster for the entirety of the 2020 season or he will be offered back for $50,000.

Sharp, a 22nd round pick in the 2016 draft, made just nine starts for the Nationals Double-A affiliate Harrisburg in 2019 due to an oblique injury. His numbers were not especially eye-popping, as he posted a 3.99 ERA with an 8.2 K/9 ratio.

His performance in the Arizona Fall League was considerably better, where he put up a 1.50 ERA in six starts.

Sharp is incredibly athletic and could have played college basketball, according to MLB.com's Pipeline. Standing 6-foot-4, Sharp is known for his sinker and high ground-ball rate. In 2018, his last season fully healthy, he finished with 59.7 percent ground-ball rate, good for a Top 10 finish in all of the minors and the highest among qualified starters in the Nationals' farm system.

A three-pitch starter, Sharp has a solid changeup in his arsenal to go along with a low 90s fastball and his sinker.

Expected to make his MLB debut in 2020, Sharp could very well face his former team next season. As a divisional opponent, the Marlins will face the Nationals 19 times next season.

The Nationals did, however, select a prospect during the Minor League portion of the draft. Washington added switch-hitting shortstop Manuel Geraldo from the Giants system, who hit .255 with five home runs and 53 RBI in Double-A.

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