- - Sunday, October 6, 2019


There was a narrative taking root early in the National League Division Series that the Washington Nationals could somehow transform their train wreck of a bullpen into a lockdown operation by simply using their impressive starting trio of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.

Well, Sunday night’s Game 3 at Nationals Park should spray a little weedkiller on that idea.

Patrick Corbin, 14-7 in regular season starts and who had given up just one earned run against the Dodgers in six innings in his Game 1 start, entered Sunday’s game in the sixth inning as the latest ingredient in this widely-hailed Nationals’ experiment.  

But he left as the newest member of the worst bullpen in baseball after surrendering four runs and a 2-1 Nationals lead, putting the Dodgers up 5-2 before a sold-out home crowd of 43,423.

I mean, Wander Suero could have done that.

And Suero did, following Corbin and promptly giving up a three-run homer to Justin Turner, making it 8-2 on the way to an 10-4 Dodgers win.

Game 4 is Monday night back at Nationals Park, with Scherzer on the mound to try to hold off elimination and send the 2-1 series back to Los Angeles for the deciding Game 5.

The Nationals had no choice but to figure out ways to utilize their starters in relief roles.

They had the worst bullpen in baseball from start to finish this season, and it would have been the white flag of surrender in any of these games to bring in Suero, Fernando Rodney or Hunter Strickland — who gave up another home run (9 in 12 postseason innings) Sunday night, this one a two-run shot to Russell Martin in the ninth inning.

In using their starters in relief, the Nationals are essentially treating all these games as a one-game wild card playoff. The Nationals, after all, beat the Milwaukee Brewers with that strategy.

“To me, these are all one-game, one-game playoffs,” manager Dave Martinez said before the series started. “They all are. It’s important if we’re winning to win. To get ahead, stay ahead. So we’re going to use all options necessary to win a game.”

It got the Nationals this far.

Strasburg’s three-inning shutout relief appearance in the Nationals wild card victory over the Brewers and Scherzer’s breathtaking inning of relief in Game 2, of this division series, striking out the side in Washington’s 4-2 win over Los Angeles.

“Before the series started, before we even got to the playoffs, our game plan was to try to utilize these guys the best way possible without disrupting their starts,” Martinez told reporters after Game 2. “And we talked to all of them and they have all been on board. So it’s just part of it. When you get to these games, I’ve said this before, you’re playing to win one game. Every day’s crucial.”

But there was never any guarantee that any of these starters would be able to change from one role to another without fail. Coming out of the bullpen is a different mentality, a different role, if you are Corbin and 187 of your 205 major league appearances have been to start the game.

Anibal Sanchez did his job for Washington as Sunday night’s starter, going five innings, allowing four hits, one run, and striking out nine, holding on to a 2-1 lead that the Nationals took early with a two-run home run by Juan Soto in the first inning off Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.

But Ryu settled down and held the Nationals at 2-1 through five. One inning later Patrick Corbin made his appearance and was initiated as a full-fledged member of the Washington hide-your-eyes bullpen.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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