- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2018

On Sunday, the Washington Nationals got a taste of what Kelvin Herrera, the closer, could do.

Since Herrera was traded from Kansas City to Washington, the Nationals have used the former Royals ninth-inning option as a setup man for Sean Doolittle. But with Doolittle sidelined weeks instead of days because of an injury setback, Herrera will get a chance as the backend choice.

With three fastballs — thrown at 98, 99 and 99 mph, respectively — Herrera struck out Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte to end the eighth inning before he maneuvered out of trouble in the ninth to secure his first save in Washington, displaying what Washington gained in the June trade. While Doolittle is sidelined, Herrera’s experience could be vital for a team needing a string of wins to make up ground in the National League East.

“He hasn’t pitched in a while, so he said he felt really good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “And he was crisp tonight. So it was good to see.”

The Nationals are on an 11-18 slide since Herrera joined last month, so the late-inning arm hasn’t had many chances to pitch while ahead. He featured in five losses in late June and early July as Washington’s bullpen was stretched thin. Herrera had pitched three times in the ninth inning before Sunday — once in a defeat and twice in non-save situations.

Herrera’s ERA had been 1.05 with the Royals. With the Nationals, his ERA rests at 3.65 as he adapts to a new situation.

With 3 hours and 33 minutes of rain delays Sunday, Martinez said he needed to piece together the final few innings after starter Max Scherzer grounded through six frames. Brandon Kintzler had prepared to enter before the second deluge brought proceedings to a halt, and by that point Kintzler had sat too long and wasn’t available. So, Ryan Madson and Matt Grace combined for the seventh inning.

When Sammy Solis, called up from Triple-A Syracuse earlier that day, allowed two singles to begin the eighth, Herrera entered earlier than anticipated with a three-run lead to protect, and his fastball jumped out of his hand.

“Obviously my teammate left a few runners out there, and I was wanting to make sure I left them on as well and not let them score,” Herrera said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “That was my job and luckily I did so.”

Dave Martinez had called to the bullpen to check if Herrera would be able to extend his outing longer than normal. Herrera said “absolutely,” and prepared himself for his first multi-inning appearance since 2016. In 1 2/3 innings Sunday, Herrera allowed two hits and struck out one batter as he earned his first save as a National, and his 15th this season.

“After he came out that one inning, no hesitation he said he was going back out,” Martinez said. “So he was good.”

Herrera threw 26 pitches, so he likely isn’t available for the series opener Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers. It’ll put an ever-changing bullpen in a new scenario once more.

But Sunday’s win, an all-around effort of solid defense, pitching and timely offense, bodes well for Washington. The Nationals need a run to climb back up the National League East standings. It might be the right time to face the Brewers, who have lost eight of their last nine games.

“I had a lot of help today,” Scherzer said. “And anytime you get that on the mound, it just makes for a great team win, because we played really good baseball today.”

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