Fans of the Washington Nationals have clamored for bullpen reinforcements. Whether the help would come internally from the minor leagues, or via a trade, the ball club needed help and fast. Fortunately, management made a move.

With the acquisition of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Oakland A’s on July 17, the Nationals made the first of hopefully a few additions to their beleaguered bullpen. While neither player is a ninth-inning closer in the traditional sense, the Nationals landed a pair of proven relievers who instantly improved manager Dusty Baker’s choices in the late innings.

The Washington Nationals acquired Ryan Madson (top) and reliever Sean Doolittle (bottom) )from the Oakland Athletics for right-hander Blake Treinen and a pair of prospects, Sunday, July 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst and Ben Margot)

In less than a week, the new guys have already played a role in a couple of victories on this road trip—but in Nationals fashion, it’s never easy. In one of the more anticipated two-game sets of the season, Nats met the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif. for their first matchup since 2014. The Angels had just welcomed back American League MVP and consensus best-player-in-the sport Mike Trout, and the matchup against fellow young star Bryce Harper was must-see TV.  

In game one, Harper hit a long, impressive homer over Trout’s head the first inning. A few minutes later, Trout delivered a homer of similar length and impressiveness. But Harper proved the difference for the Nationals, hitting a triple in the eighth inning and scoring on Ryan Zimmerman’s tiebreaking RBI single to seal a 4-3 victory for Washington, the team’s sixth in a row. With Harper sitting out the second game of the series, there would be no sequel to one of the more scintillating games of the long season.

After falling to the Angels in that second game and seeing their winning streak come to an end, the Nationals moved on to Arizona to face the surprising Diamondbacks. Max Scherzer got the nod in the opener of the three-game series and was uncharacteristically rocked early on, surrendering three consecutive solo homers to Arizona, who stretched their lead to 5-0 after two innings. Yet the Nationals showed resilience and slowly got back into the game with small ball. The Nationals rallied with Daniel Murphy’s run-scoring double in the fourth, then added two more runs in the fifth off Diamondbacks starter Zack Godley. A leadoff double for Matt Wieters led to Brian Goodwin’s RBI groundout, and Ryan Raburn singled in Wilmer Difo with two outs to tie the ballgame at 5-5. Unfortunately Enny Romero gave up a leadoff triple in the bottom of the ninth, followed by a single which gave Arizona a 6-5 win.  

In Saturday’s second game, Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings in the 4-3 victory. Harper has swung a hot bat since the All-Star break, batting .500 with three homers and six RBIs in the last seven days. Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run to escape a jam and mark his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning.

While the bullpen remains a work in progress, it’s nice to have some reinforcements in the mix. Is Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo still looking to make a deal, or is he content to roll into the postseason with this roster as is?

 

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO