AP NEWS

Nationals seek answers for league-worst bullpen

April 8, 2019

PHILADELPHIA | Sitting at his desk in the visiting clubhouse before Monday’s game, Dave Martinez was told sports talk radio back home was trying to solve his team’s bullpen woes.

“Tell ’em good luck,” Martinez said.

Luck might be the only way to hang on to a late-inning lead for Martinez’s Nationals, who went into Monday night’s first game of three against the Phillies with a 10.80 bullpen ERA.

That’s the worst in the majors.

Opposing hitters were batting .365 against Washington relievers, also the worst.

“It is a rough stretch,” left-handed reliever and nine-year veteran Tony Sipp said.

Eight games in, the Washington bullpen had thrown a league-low 23.1 innings, giving up 38 hits and 13 walks. The team ERA in the late innings was: sixth inning (7.88), seventh (5.63), eighth (19.13) and ninth (7.71).

“Not everybody in the bullpen is struggling, but us as a group, we need to do better, myself included,” lefty reliever Matt Grace said. “It is big because if we are not getting the job done individually, it affects the whole group (of relievers), and the team as a whole. It is important for us to pick it up a little bit.”

“We got five really good starters. You need a bullpen,” Martinez said when asked if starters could go deeper in games to help the situation. “You just can’t rely on three or four guys in the bullpen. They are going to come around. Just relax and go out there and throw strikes and get ahead and get outs. Don’t worry about what has transpired; just get outs.”

What has transpired in less than five percent of the season’s games isn’t pretty.

The ERA of relievers currently on the roster includes Grace’s 13.50, Sipp’s 18.00, Joe Ross’ 81.00, Justin Miller’s 4.15, Wander Suero’s 13.50, Kyle Barraclough’s 2.08 and Sean Doolittle’s 0.00. To be fair, Ross made just one appearance, on Sunday in New York.

Then there is veteran right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, who had an infinite ERA going into Monday since he had not retired any of the nine batters he had faced in four games.

“He has been doing this for a long time, Grace said. “I think he has the utmost confidence in his ability to get through this.”

“The key thing is to show you care (about your teammate),” Sipp said.

What is the plan for Rosenthal?

“Right now we are going to take it day-by-day,” Martinez said, after meeting behind closed doors with general manager Mike Rizzo. “He’s got to pitch; he needs to throw strikes. We will see what happens the next few days. He’s got to pitch; that is part of it.”

Grace has faced 19 batters and allowed eight hits in less than four innings. He has pitched in six of the first eight games.

“I feel good,” Grace said. “My body feels good, everything feels good. There has been a lot of off days early so that has not really been an issue ... so far.”

Grace and Sipp both said the first days of the season are a chance for roles to be defined in the bullpen, especially with new faces such as Sipp.

“I think usually guys are used to pitching in certain roles,” Grace said. “Davey and (pitching coach Derek Lilliquist), they know that, what roles are best suited to our abilities. Those roles need to be established” as the season begins.

Before the game Monday, the Nationals activated outfielder Michael A. Taylor off the injured list. He played four games on a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg to start the season after suffering a knee/hip injury in spring training less than four weeks ago.

“I’m excited,” Taylor said. “When you’re away from the team, it’s tough not being able to contribute and not being able to be around the guys.”

Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 2.84) starts for the Nationals on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. Former Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who hit third in the lineup Monday, reached base in the first eight games with three homers for the Phillies.