Jul 3, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
All-Star rosters will be announced on Sunday, and while most of the discussion in relation to the Nationals has been about the worthiness of Adam LaRoche or Anthony Rendon, we haven’t talked a whole lot about the worthiness of several members of their bullpen.
And we should be, because there are no shortage of worthy candidates out of baseball’s best bullpen this season.
Rafael Soriano, despite the occasional hold-your-breath ninth inning, owns a 1.06 ERA and 20 saves in 22 opportunities. Drew Storen has a 1.03 ERA and a ridiculous, 22-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Aaron Barrett has a 1.93 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 28 innings. And Tyler Clippard has a 1.95 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 37 innings of work.
Yes, that’s four relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs. Only the Nationals and Padres can claim that.
Really, though, this stretch of dominance extends further back than Opening Day. Go back to last August and you’ll find equally effective work from the Nationals’ bullpen.
Over their last 140 2/3 combined innings, the Soriano-Storen-Clippard triumvirate — Barrett was still in the minors in 2013 — has posted a collective 1.60 ERA, with a 0.98 WHIP and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Not too shabby.
There are nights in which those three relievers are unhittable, but there are also nights in which they have to dig deep to post a zero on the scoreboard. We saw that last night, when Clippard and Soriano both pitched their way out of jams to preserve the Nationals’ 4-3 lead.
Clippard had a man on base and two out with Troy Tulowitzki at the plate. Perhaps the frontrunner for NL MVP at the midway point of the season, Tulowitzki had hit the ball hard all night and was the one guy the Nationals didn’t want to beat them in this series.
So how did Clippard get Tulo? By getting ahead in the count with fastballs, then unleashing an 0-2 splitter that was as devastating a pitch as he has thrown all season. Tulowitzki flailed helplessly at the pitch, which started at the knees and then broke down to the dirt, and Clippard pumped his fist as he hopped off the mound.
“I didn’t want to lead off with an offspeed pitch there,” the reliever said. “I just felt like he might’ve been sitting on something soft. Traditionally, that’s what I started the other guys off with, so I wanted to just come right after him. And I was able to do that. I threw him three fastballs, set up the splitty nice and was able to bury it.”
Soriano got himself into a bit more of a jam in the ninth, walking Michael McKenry with two outs after an 11-pitch battle, then allowing a bloop single to D.J. LeMahieu, moving the tying runner to third. He fell behind Josh Rutledge 2-0, then battled back and got the pinch-hitter to loft a harmless flyball to right field to end the game.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I think watching on TV or watching from the stands, his misses, people take those as uncalculated. But he knows exactly what he’s doing, exactly where he wants to put the ball and he executes it a lot. Kind of like [Livan Hernandez], I’ve started to kind of learn what his sequences are. I’ve got 100 percent confidence in him every time he takes the mound.”
At this point, everyone should have extreme confidence every time anybody out of the back end of the Nationals’ bullpen takes the mound.
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