Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Fernando Rodney turned from his locker postgame to look at the approaching media group and wryly said, “What happened?”

He is 42 years old, in his 17th season and appeared in his 925th game Thursday night. Thursday was also the first time he’s pitched three times in two days in those almost two decades in the majors. He lost the game Thursday after giving up two runs in the ninth. The first came on a rare slider from Rodney to Ian Desmond. The second arrived when Daniel Murphy beat a double-play attempt by a half-step and a run came in the back door. Final: Colorado 8, Nationals 7. Takeaway: The bullpen remains thin like it was in February, March, April, May and June.

But now, on July 25, the July 31 trade deadline is lurking. Washington remains in desperate need of another high-end reliever and a quality left-handed pitcher. The ERAs of the five relievers used Thursday in an attempted sweep of Colorado were as follows: 6.23, 4.07, 4.05, 4.93, 2.79 (the latter is Rodney’s while with Washington; he’s 7.20 overall this season). 

Closer Sean Doolittle was not available. He pitched both games of Wednesday’s doubleheader -- a first for him the way Rodney went through a first in this series, too. Without him, the Nationals tried to merge the remaining fragments and make the bullpen whole enough for a sweep. Two things conspired against them.

First, was an about-face from the starting pitchers in the series. Max Scherzer pitched just five innings Thursday in his first start since July 6. He felt fine afterward and was focused on how he would feel Friday. It was the day after an outing when his mid-back issue first cropped up. Scherzer’s stunted outing Thursday -- tied for his shortest of the season -- combined with Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg throwing just six innings each and Erick Fedde turning in a four-inning performance in the series. The Nationals’ rotation had propped up all other facets of the team for months. Against Colorado, it allowed just four runs. It just did not pitch deep in the games.

Second, was the truncation of the schedule. First pitch Tuesday was thrown at 7:06 p.m. By 8 p.m. Thursday, four games had been completed in roughly a 48-hour span. So, the bullpen was used a lot during a harried situation at the park thanks to another schedule-twisting weather situation.

Yet, the Nationals won three of four. They dropped a heavy workload on the bullpen in doing so. Plenty of runs were scored. They are 4 ½ games behind the first-place Braves entering an intriguing weekend. Los Angeles comes to the District for three. Atlanta goes to Philadelphia for three before heading down I-95 for three against Washington.

The same questions will collar Mike Rizzo during those series, and perhaps be even more exposed against the National League’s elite. Will he find bullpen help? What level will it be? When is it happening?

One other question -- do the Nationals need better relief work? -- was answered long ago. The clear “yes” response was reaffirmed Thursday night.

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