Kyle Barraclough caught the new baseball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman and angrily threw the old ball that had just been scalded into his team’s first-base dugout.
The Washington Nationals reliever joined a growing list of bullpen meltdowns Wednesday afternoon, as he gave up a bases-loaded double to Philadelphia Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen in the eighth inning.
That gave the Phillies a two-run lead, but the Nationals came back to win, 9-8, with two runs in the eighth and a bases-loaded walk with no outs in the last of the ninth by rookie utility man Jake Noll.
It was the first career RBI by Noll in just his second trip to the plate. Noll was rewarded after the game with a demotion to Triple-A Fresno to make way for Howie Kendrick to come off the injured list.
The walk-off win, though, even with an attempted Gatorade bath on Noll’s head by teammates, didn’t mask second-year manager Dave Martinez’s frustration.
“It is kind of a bittersweet win; I am not thrilled about how we are playing,” Martinez said. “We have to start playing better. We worked all spring on doing the little things. We have to make it happen.”
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“We are going to be good, but we can’t play like that every day and expect to come back and win the game,” he added. “They know that. We have to start playing (solid) baseball. Every game. Stop limiting the mistakes and start playing baseball.”
The Nationals once again had baserunning issues, with Victor Robles and Wilmer Difo caught off base, and the bullpen gave up four runs in five innings.
“It’s early. There are going to be mistakes on the field,” said Nationals reliever Justin Miller, who threw two scoreless innings.
The bullpen struggles came after starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez was forced to leave with a leg bruise after being hit by a line drive. “Of course I wanted to stay in there,” said Sanchez, who expects to be ready for his next start.
Boos that had been reserved for former Washington star Bryce Harper — who reached base all five times he came to the plate Wednesday — were directed toward the Nationals bullpen by hometown fans.
The Nationals’ bullpen entered the game with the worst ERA in the majors at 12.71. Opposing hitters were batting .411 against Washington relievers before they gave up six more hits to the Phillies.
“The bullpen’s struggling,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters before the game. “There’s no other way to put it. We need to be more aggressive in the strike zone. We need to follow the game plan. We need to perform like the back of their baseball card says.”
Things didn’t get better Wednesday afternoon, as reliever Trevor Rosenthal allowed both runners he faced to score as the Phillies tied the game in eighth.
Rosenthal, who signed prior to this season, has not retired any of the seven batters he has faced this year.
“He is a high-energy guy,” Martinez said. “We have to figure a way to calm him down a little bit.”
Barraclough was charged with a run while lefty reliever Matt Grace pitched a scoreless inning but still has an 11.57 ERA. Sean Doolittle (2-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to get the win.
One bright spot was the offense, which got three hits and a homer each from third baseman Anthony Rendon and left fielder Juan Soto. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman also homered against Phillies ace Aaron Nola, who gave up three home runs in a game for just the third time in his career. Nola didn’t allow two homers in an inning all last season, when he was third in the Cy Young Award voting.
Harper, who had three hits including a homer in the first game Tuesday, has now reached base eight straight times.
Before the game, Nationals shortstop Trea Turner was put on the 10-day injured list with a broken right index finger after he was hit by a pitch. Turner was hitting .357 with two homers and four steals. He was replaced by infielder Adrian Sanchez, who was called up from Triple-A Fresno while Difo started at shortstop.
The Nationals (2-3) will start Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 6.00) at the Mets on Thursday at 1:10 p.m. in New York’s home opener.
Martinez hopes the defense and baserunning behind Strasburg will be better.
“Those little things, we’ve got to get better,” Martinez said.