After a ninth inning Wednesday night that Sean Burnett would rather forget, the Nationals left-hander had a little trouble sleeping.
It didn’t matter that Burnett, who is sharing time in the closer role with right-hander Drew Storen, had started the season off so well that it took him until his fifth appearance to even allow a run.
It didn’t matter that he’d thrown good pitches to three straight batters Wednesday and yet still found himself with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth inning against the Mets, then gave up the lead and needed Storen to enter the game to help him get the final out of the inning.
Ultimately, he was the man on the mound when things collapsed around him and the Nationals - shortly after the same thing had happened to fellow reliever Tyler Clippard two innings earlier - and it was easily the worst performance of Burnett’s season. He allowed four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, turning a 3-2 lead into a 6-3 defeat.
The outing hiked Burnett’s ERA from 2.61 to a 5.73.
“That’s just the way it goes,” Burnett said. “If you have one bad day it’s going to take a while to make the numbers look good. In the big scheme of things, you can’t look at numbers as a reliever. You’ve got to go by what you’ve done lately. One bad game could turn things ugly for you statistically.
“Right now, it’s not looking too pretty. But hopefully I’ll get back on the board, get hot here for a little and everybody forgets. The thing is, you go for so long, you go five, six games in a row but everybody remembers that bad one. Right now, all you can remember is that bad one. You don’t remember two weeks ago when everything was going your way.”
Don’t misconstrue what Burnett is saying. He’s not someone who takes struggling lightly nor did he use the opportunity to make excuses for his outing last night admitting that, “There’s going to be days when you stink, and last night, I stunk.”
Manager Jim Riggleman has stayed away from naming a closer. When pressed on the issue, he has insisted that it’s a matter of matchups and the projected batters for the ninth inning in a save situation determining whether Storen or Burnett is summoned. On Wednesday, the Mets had right-handed hitter Jason Bay leading off the inning, but he was followed by three left-handers. It was an easy decision to use Burnett.
“The insinuation there is that he didn’t pitch good,” Riggleman said when asked if he’d stay away from Burnett on Thursday because of Wednesday’s outing. “He got a ground ball up the middle, he got a soft flare to left and a bunt so it’s bases loaded and nobody out, that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I thought he threw the ball fine.”
In many ways, the Nationals are fortunate to have two relievers they trust equally in pressure situations. And while he maintained Thursday that both would still get consideration in save situations, Riggleman doesn’t want to lock either into the role for fear of not being able to use them in the seventh or eighth innings if needed.
“I don’t even think that I want to even use the word,” he said. “I just want to get outs in the ninth. Let’s finish the game, get outs. I’m not going to get too caught up in who gets the save. I just want us to get the save and more importantly the ‘W.’ “
But Burnett and Storen still are learning the role, and Burnett, a converted starter, admitted that the game can speed up for him in the ninth. Slowing it down is something he’ll have to continue to work on when he gets his next opportunity.
“I’m a high-adrenaline guy, and there’s nothing better than pitching the ninth,” he said. “I need to maybe slow things down a little.
“I’ve learned with those good rolls, when you get hot, enjoy them because all those times where those infield singles find holes or the ball drops in, they all equal out. … This one’s going to hurt for a little bit, but if it doesn’t hurt, there’s something wrong. I’m learning to get over it, and that’s part of the game too. It’s still in the back of my mind, and I can’t wait to get somebody out - just to know I can do it again.”