Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-8, on Wednesday afternoon. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Easy is not part of the situation this season.

Washington chased 2018 Cy Young finalist Aaron Nola in just three innings Wednesday. The outing was the shortest of his career. Home runs from Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning opened Nola’s rough day, and three more runs in the third inning ended it.

Somehow beating Nola the day after Bryce Harper’s night of revenge was crucial. Beating Nola following an early lead was all the more important.

Eventually, it happened. The Nationals lost their four-run lead, recovered to tie the game, then won it in the bottom of the ninth when Jake Noll walked on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded.

Teammates ran to Noll to congratulate him on his game-winning walk. The Nationals have two wins this season, and both are walk-offs.

Both also barely happened. Wednesday’s win did little to calm the more urgent tenor first heard from manager Davey Martinez following Tuesday night’s loss. He again was stern following the two-game split with Philadelphia.

“Oh, we needed it,” Martinez said. “And it's kind of a bittersweet win. I'm not thrilled about how we're playing, but I'm happy that the boys kept pushing. It's a testament to them. But we gotta start playing better.

“We worked all spring on doing the little things, and we gotta make it happen. The baserunning stuff has gotta go away. The defense, every day we gotta be clean. We're going to be good, but we can't play like that every day and expect to come back and win games. We can't. They know that. I'm proud of them for playing the way they played, but we gotta start playing baseball every day. Limit the mistakes and start playing baseball.”

2. So, the bullpen. Again.

Washington held a 6-4 lead from the fourth inning to the top of the eighth. That’s when things came undone via another ineffective outing from Tony Sipp, another uncompetitive appearance from Trevor Rosenthal, and a mediocre day from Kyle Barraclough, who has not looked sharp since arriving in Washington.

Rosenthal is currently a mess. His third appearance of the season replicated the other two: he recorded no outs.

Wednesday, he walked both batters he faced. He’s thrown 31 pitches in his three appearances, but just 15 strikes. Rosenthal already has seven earned runs on his ledger this season. His ERA remains infinity. Washington is desperate to figure out how to fix him.

“Obviously it’s frustrating because with the bullpen I don’t want to put other guys in tough spots, but we were able to come back and win the game, so that’s been a relief for sure,” Rosenthal said. “I feel very optimistic but frustrated at the same because I feel so good, I feel like I’m just so close I just need to get the wheels spinning a little bit and take off. Just a little frustration but also I’m encouraged by how I feel.”

Barraclough was little better: two hits, a walk, one strikeout, one earned run in ⅔ of an inning. His misleading ERA is 2.70. All three of his inherited runners scored Wednesday.

As a group, the Nationals bullpen entered Wednesday last in the major leagues thanks to a 12.71 ERA. And it’s not close. The Chicago White Sox, 29th in bullpen ERA, were more than three runs better.

Here’s Mike Rizzo pregame on the bullpen situation:

“Well I think there's always a pecking order, and guys are experienced in certain roles, but I think we have to find a comfort level and comfort zone for some of these guys, and we've seen glimpses of guys throwing extremely well and some guys not performing like they're supposed to. So we're encouraged by a couple of the guys in a couple of appearances, but in general we've got to perform much better as a bullpen. Because we know their capabilities are to be a really good, solid bullpen because they've performed in the past and we expect them to do it again.”

Not even close thus far.

3. Anibal Sanchez’s debut stalled after four innings. He allowed four earned runs, walked four and struck out three. He caught an Andrew McCutchen line drive in the third inning, which also appeared to irritate his leg. Sanchez walked around the mound, and trainers and manager Davey Martinez came to the mound. Sanchez shook and raised his leg before throwing a few warmup pitches then deeming himself ready. He lasted another 10 batters, allowed two more runs and came to bat in the bottom of the fourth.

Sanchez was in pain again following a swing. Martinez and a trainer talked with him. He took another pitch for strike three. After warming up for the top of the fifth, followed by a final visit with the medical staff, Martinez ended Sanchez’s day 76 pitches into it.

“Of course I want to stay there,” Sanchez said. “I saw the pitch count, I don't got too many pitches too. I can handle two or three more innings, I figured. The way I throw because of my hip. It hurt me and I don't want to force my arm to do something to stay in the game. It's early and they know what they can do and I'm going to stop right there and get ready for my next one. I didn't want to injure my leg and my arm too.”

The short start, naturally, put the wavering bullpen in a bind. Matt Grace entered for his fourth appearance in five games this season (that’s a pace of 130 appearances, for those counting at home). He fought through an inning. Justin Miller followed, and finding a way to Sean Doolittle became the priority. Miller made it through two innings (Martinez was asked if Miller “rescued” them and said that was an understatement), but the rest of the bullpen did not hold up its end.

4. Washington made three more outs on the bases Wednesday. Two were full gaffes, and the other an aggressive play which narrowly produced an out.

Victor Robles -- continuing his struggles on the basepaths -- rounded second too far on a slow grounder to third. Maikel Franco charged, knowing he didn’t have a play at first, and faked the throw.

Robles bit, and Franco threw behind him at second base. Third out of the inning. Had Robles stayed put, Anthony Rendon was coming up with two runners on.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Nationals had runners on first and second with nobody out. Robles squared to bunt before pulling his bat back. Wilmer Difo ventured off second too far. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto snapped a throw behind him to pick him off.

The inning prior, Rendon tried to take third when Realmuto had a hard time locating a wild pitch. He was called safe. Philadelphia challenged and the call was overturned.

Often, the reverse of this process via defensive mistakes is labeled a path to losing: “We can’t give the other team 28, 29 outs…” The reverse is true, too.

5. Howie Kendrick says he is ready to go. Expect him to be activated Thursday for the opener against the New York Mets. Noll was sent to Triple-A Fresno after Wednesday’s game to make room for Kendrick.

Kendrick said he feels prepared enough to skip a minor-league rehab assignment and go straight to playing.

“I had a ton of at-bats,” Kendrick said. “There was guys down there before they broke for the season, before all the affiliates left, I probably got five or six games, four at-bats a game, and we had some guys that stayed back for extended that threw to me and Mike Taylor down there. So I’ve gotten quite a few at-bats. It’s not like I’ve been just sitting around. I was able to hit the whole time. Running was just the last thing to come.”

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