When you score 12 runs and your starter had seven strikeouts on his way to a dominating performance, the logical conclusion is that it would be an easy victory. But that wasn’t the case for the Washington Nationals yesterday as the bullpen once again imploded and almost lost the game.
After Max Scherzer left the game in the seventh inning, Matt Grace came in and almost immediately gave up a three run homer. Then, Trevor Rosenthal continued his inability to retire a batter as he hit one batter and walked other on four pitches (which included two wild pitches). While they were able to escape the eighth inning unscathed, Joe Ross made his first appearance of 2019 in the bottom of the ninth and proceeded to give up a three run homer.
All of a sudden, a blowout had turned into a game and Sean Doolittle was forced to come in and save the day. Considering how Doolittle has already had to work a little too often this season and Davey Martinez has been strongly criticized for how he manages the bullpen’s workload, this should have been a game that provided the closer with some well deserved rest. But Doolittle has already been one of the few bright spots in the bullpen and was forced to do a little extra yesterday afternoon.
While he’s not alone in his struggles, Rosenthal has been receiving national attention for his woes this year. His performance up in New York yesterday meant he tied a MLB record for consecutive appearances without retiring a single batter (five), which dates back to his last start of 2017 before having Tommy Johns surgery. Unfortunately, this is also a stark reminder that the Nats have often had bullpen struggles because Joey Eischen is one of the other pitchers who have that distinction and he did it in a Nationals uniform the first year the team was in DC — 2005.
Rosenthal’s ERA of infinity is truly horrible and it left manager Davey Martinez to state the obvious when he told reporters “we have to come up with something. We have to figure something out for him.” He added that they’ve “tried to tweak something with his mechanics” and hinted at how his performance has had an impact on the skipper’s ability to manage the rest of the bullpen.
His teammates are all saying the right things when they’re asked about Rosenthal’s performance. Several players have mentioned that it’s tough to come back after missing an entire season due to injury and most have said that everyone struggles at some point. Even the starting pitchers like Scherzer, who arguably have the biggest reason to be upset with him, have defended him and claimed “it’s time to be a good teammate and pick him up.”
This says something about the organization’s ability to move forward. If there were anonymous quotes leaking out that were attacking Rosenthal and some of the other struggling relievers, then you truly have to question the team’s morale and Davey’s ability to manage the clubhouse.
But this isn’t getting much attention even though the Nationals are sitting at .500 and have four of the last six. Fans have been expressing a lot of concern as sports talk radio has been filled with callers saying the Lerner family needs to blow up the whole organization and plenty of twitter users have been calling for Mike Rizzo to lose his job. The positive attitude of players and the ability to grind out some victories proves the team’s not at that point yet, but the on the field product certainly needs to improve soon.