After five rocky innings from Patrick Corbin — another short outing for a Washington Nationals starter this homestand — Manager Dave Martinez turned to his bullpen again to cover the final four innings. It might bear little resemblance to the relief corps that started the season, but it’s turning into one of the team’s few bright spots in a desultory summer.
Martinez’s selections in the Nationals’ 8-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves were Erasmo Ramirez, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan. The trio allowed two runs over the final four innings. There were no saves to be had — the Nationals (30-62) lost their eighth straight and dropped to 1-13 in July, but as silver linings go, this was one.
Ramirez and Edwards weren’t a part of the Nationals’ Opening Day roster. The bullpen has been reshaped this season because of injuries. Excluding position players, 21 pitchers have entered in relief.
“I can’t say enough about those guys, and they’ve pitched a lot,” Martinez said. “We’ve made it a point to make sure that they come in and throw strikes. And they’ve been doing that. And they’ve been doing really well.”
The Nationals hold the No. 5 pick in the draft. The stakes are high.
The bullpen took another hit when Martinez announced Friday that Sean Doolittle, who suffered an elbow sprain in the first month of the season, is scheduled to have an internal brace procedure to repair his ulnar collateral ligament after consulting with doctors. He will have the surgery after the all-star break and miss the remainder of the season.
Doolittle joins the list of relievers from Washington’s Opening Day roster who are no longer in Martinez’s mix: Closer Tanner Rainey was placed on the 60-day injured list with a UCL sprain Wednesday. Victor Arano has been on the IL with left knee inflammation for over a month; he began his rehab this month.
Another three aren’t on the current roster: Mason Thompson, who just returned after an early season biceps injury, and Patrick Murphy are with Class AAA Rochester. Austin Voth was designated for assignment and now plays for the Baltimore Orioles. Only four of the 10 relievers from Opening Day remain: Andrés Machado, Finnegan, Steve Cishek and Paolo Espino, who is a part of the starting rotation.
But the bullpen has held its own during this winless homestand, allowing four earned runs in 15⅔ innings. The Nationals’ starters, by comparison, have yielded 16 runs in 20⅓ innings. Corbin allowed six runs himself — five earned — on nine hits. He struck out eight and saw his ERA go to 5.87. The Nationals are 4-15 in games he has started.
“I just think right now as a team, we’re not pitching well, we’re not really doing anything well,” Corbin said. “It’s frustrating. Guys here are working hard, but it’s tough to keep playing like this. But we got to just keep battling and try to turn it around.”
Corbin didn’t get any help in the top of the first inning from Luis García, who spiked a throw to first base on a routine groundball, allowing Dansby Swanson to reach. Matt Olson singled to score Swanson, then Austin Riley crushed a two-run home run to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.
Olson added RBI singles in the second and fourth innings, extending Atlanta’s cushion. Orlando Arcia added a solo shot in the fifth on Corbin’s 103rd pitch of the game; he finished with 106.
Then the bullpen quieted the hot bats of the Braves (55-37) — at least until Finnegan gave up Adam Duvall’s blast in the ninth that landed well beyond the bullpen in left.
“I commend them every day,” Martinez said about his bullpen. “Now we just got to get the lead one day and put them in the games when we got the lead.”
Why did Doolittle wait until now to have the surgery? He hoped that he could return this season without it, so he opted to receive a platelet-rich plasma and stem cell injection after his elbow sprain and attempting to rehab. Still, he knew that this outcome was a possibility. After pitching last week, he continued to feel pain, leading to another MRI exam.
Instead, this timeline will line up for him to be ready for spring training. The recovery time for the surgery is expected to be five to seven months.
Tommy John surgery is a complete reconstruction of the ligament that can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months. The internal brace procedure is a repair of the ligament and less invasive.
Doolittle, 35, was traded to the Nationals in 2017 and pitched for the team until 2020. He returned to the Nationals this season on a one-year deal after spending last season between the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners; he allowed one hit in six appearances this year. He will be a free agent after the season but plans to pitch again.
“I feel really good about it,” Doolittle said about his decision. “I don’t feel good about getting surgery. I feel really good that this is the right course of action for me right now, at this point in my career, at this point in this process with my elbow. As far as I’m looking at it, 2023 starts right now.”
How did the offense fare against Ian Anderson for the second time in five games? Not much better. Anderson was charged with one run in six innings — reliever Collin McHugh hit César Hernández in the sixth inning with the bases loaded. Anderson’s outing Friday came after he allowed two runs against the Nationals on Sunday.
Josh Bell had three of Washington’s eight hits. Nelson Cruz added another but was replaced by Ehire Adrianza in the sixth inning as the designated hitter after experiencing quadriceps tightness. Washington added three runs in the ninth on Victor Robles’s bloop single, a walk to Juan Soto and a wild pitch that scored Robles. Keibert Ruiz, representing the tying run, struck out to end it.