The much maligned Washington Nationals bullpen came through in game one of their NL Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. They held the Redbirds scoreless over four innings in a 3-2 Washington victory.
The Nationals started ace lefty Gio Gonzalez in hopes he would go seven innings. Gonzalez ran into trouble in he second as he walked the bases loaded and gave up two runs without giving up a hit. He was replaced in the top of the sixth inning for pinch hitter Roger Bernadina. At the time Washington trailed 2-1.
Craig Stammen replaced him in on the mound. After getting Yadier Molina to fly out Stammen gave up a single to David Freese. He then got Daniel Descalso to fly out before hitting Pete Kozma. Stammen got out of the two on, two out jam by striking out Skip Schumaker swinging.
Stammen started the seventh. St. Louis loaded the bases. First baseman Adam LaRoche committed and error which allowed Jon Jay to reach first. Carlos Beltran singled. Stammen hit Matt Holliday with a pitch and was replaced by Ryan Mattheus.
Mattheus was able to get Allen Craig to ground into a fielder’s choice as shortstop Ian Desmond threw home to get Jay. Then Mattheus got Molina to ground into a double play ending the inning. Washington was still only one run down.
After the Nationals took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth Tyler Clippard came on to replace Mattheus. Though he has been spotty lately Clippard was solid Sunday. Washington allowed the tying run to reach first when Freese reached on a throwing error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Clippard did not let this bother him. He got Descalso on a sacrifice bunt then forced Kozma to pop up to LaRoche at first. Matt Carpenter pinch hit for pitcher Marc Rzepzcynski. Clippard struck him out looking on a beautiful change up.
In the bottom of the ninth Drew Storen came in to close things out. He was slated to be the Nationals closer going into 2012, but an elbow injury kept him out for most of the season. In his absence Clippard had held the job and done quite well.
Storen breezed through the ninth. Against the top of the St. Louis batting order he got Jay and Beltran to fly out before striking out Holliday. It was one of the most efficient relief jobs of any Nationals pitcher this season.
In all Washington’s bullpen threw four innings of shutout ball. They combined to give up two hits and no walks with two hit batsmen.
If the Nationals bullpen continues to pitch this well their starters should only have to go six innings. It looks like manager Davey Johnson may go with Clippard as a setup man and have Storen close.
This plan worked on Sunday as the Washington bullpen came through with flying colors.