May 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
When Ross Detwiler got Devin Mesoraco to popup to the third baseman in the top of the 15th inning late Monday night, the left-hander extended a streak of dominance by the Nationals bullpen to new, hard-to-fathom lengths.
At that moment, the Nats relief corps had tossed 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. That’s more than three full ballgames’ worth of nothing but zeroes, a stretch that lowered the entire group’s season ERA to a ridiculously low 1.97, best in the majors.
All streaks, of course, must come to an end sometime, so when Detwiler served up a 2-run homer to Todd Frazier — the deciding blow in the Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Reds — those dominant numbers lost some of their significance.
“It was just one bad pitch,” Detwiler said of the 2-1 changeup to Frazier that wound up in the Red Porch seats. “It was stupid. It sucks that our team’s out there fighting all night long, I make one mistake and I pretty much cost us the game.”
Detwiler’s one bad pitch notwithstanding, this recent sustained run of excellence by the Nationals bullpen shouldn’t be ignored. It has helped keep this team — plagued by injuries and inconsistent performances from its star-studded rotation — afloat into late-May.
And that hasn’t been lost on teammates.
“They’re out there every day, and you know they want the ball,” utilityman Kevin Frandsen said. “That’s my favorite part. They always want the ball. No matter how often they’ve thrown, they always want the ball. And I want the ball in all their hands. Especially Ross. In that situation, he’s our long guy there. Unfortunately, it didn’t come about, but I’ll have him out there every time. Like I said, everybody wants the ball. That’s the best part playing behind them, because they want that moment, especially in a tie ballgame, to keep it right there. They did their jobs like they always do.”
After Stephen Strasburg went seven innings Monday night, the bullpen didn’t figure to get much work. Ryan Mattheus entered with the Nationals trailing 2-1 and promptly retired 6-of-7 batters faced, giving his teammates a chance to mount a bottom-of-the-ninth rally against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. Which they did.
That sent the game into extra innings and ultimately sent all but two members of the current eight-man bullpen (Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins) into action by night’s end. One-by-one they emerged from the right-field corner — Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Aaron Barrett — each delivering the scoreless frames necessary to keep the game going.
“As a bullpen, you go out there and you look to just put up another zero, just get our guys up to the plate with an opportunity,” said Storen, who escaped an 11th-inning jam. “It’s tough. That’s a long game right there. But when you have guys going out and performing the way they are, you feed off them.”
It didn’t pay off at the end of that long game, but even after Detwiler’s 2-run 15th, the Nationals bullpen still ended the night boasting a league-best 2.08 ERA.
The only question now: Who’s available to pitch tonight?
“We’ll see once I get some sleep,” Storen said as he departed the ballpark well after midnight. “We’ve all thrown a lot. We’ll see how it goes.”
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