MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — I wrote much of my game story from the Nationals 3-2 extra-innings victory about Tyler Clippard and Jordan Zimmermann and the ridiculous control both showed last night as the Nationals struck out 13 Marlins, 12 by those two pitchers alone.
But I wanted to go back and take another look at the importance of what Drew Storen and Sean Burnet — and to some extent the rest of the bullpen — did to help the Nationals win that game as well. It didn’t have the flash of six straight strikeouts by Clippard or three in an inning on nine pitches by Zimmermann, but it was nonetheless important.
Clippard, Storen and Burnett are the Nationals’ three go-to guys. They’ve each appeared in at least 14 of the Nationals first 32 games this year and Clippard, in particular, has already thrown almost as many innings (21) as starter Tom Gorzelanny (30 2/3).
But Burnett was the only one of the three to make an appearance in the Nationals three-game series in Philadelphia with Todd Coffey, Brian Broderick, Henry Rodriguez and Doug Slaten taking the lions’ share of the relief load during the Phillies’ sweep of the Nationals. Sure, they were pitching in losing situations, but it allowed Nationals manager Jim Riggleman not to continue overtaxing Clippard and Storen.
“I needed the rest,” Clippard admitted Friday.
That rest paid dividends Friday night when both Clippard and Storen were able to combine for almost four full innings.
“I’m going to start (Thursday), with Coffey,” Riggleman said Friday when asked about the work of his top three bullpen arms. “Coffey went three days in a row for us in Philadelphia and that allowed us to do some things. Rodriguez ate up two innings for us yesterday, that allowed us to go two innings each with Clippard and Storen. So many things affect other things but that helped a lot and that helped this game tonight.”
And so many things had to go right Friday night for the Nationals to avoid a four-game losing streak.
— Zimmermann, catcher Ivan Rodriguez and third baseman Alex Cora had to catch Marlins’ catcher John Buck missing a sign, breaking for home from third base in the fifth and getting caught in a run down.
— Zimmermann had to hold the Marlins and wiggle out of another jam in the sixth with two men on and the tying run already home as Clippard and Burnett furiously warmed up in the bullpen.
— Mike Stanton’s deep, deep fly ball had to be caught at the warning track by Jerry Hairston Jr. off Storen with two outs in the ninth.
“Just stay in,” Storen said he was thinking.
— A comebacker off the bat of Omar Infante has to be fielded perfectly by Storen, who checked the runner at third base before getting the first out of the 10th inning at first.
— And Sean Burnett, called in specifically to provide a lefty-on-left matchup against Chris Coghlan, had to make his one pitch count and get Coghlan to make an out — which he did on a fly ball to shallow center field.
“I’ve said it all year,” Clippard said. “We have a tremendous group of guys down there. We have a great pitching staff as a whole… everyone’s getting it done. It was huge. Seems like every time we play here we get into extra innings and tight ballgames with these guys. Lately the past couple years they’ve gotten the best of us, we’ve been searching for a win and tonight, that’s a big win.”