Coming in to this Sunday afternoon tilt between the Nationals and Phillies, the highlighted matchup rightly focused on the mound. Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta, two of the finest pitchers in the National League over the past three seasons would square off in what promised to be a top notch affair. And in one of those rare instances, the matchup lived up to the hype. While Scherzer was making the Phillies lineup look meek and feeble with his 15 strikeouts, Arrieta was much more efficient, inducing weak contact after weak contact. Save for a lone solo home run to Matt Adams, Arrieta was matching Scherzer pitch for pitch.
In the 7th, Pedro Florimon singled to start the inning, one Scherzer started with 105 pitches, then promptly stole second, putting a man in scoring position. Jorge Alfaro struck out, which prompted a decision from Gabe Kapler: pinch hit for Arrieta, even though he had only thrown 75 pitches in 6 innings, or bring in Nick Williams to face Scherzer? Kapler chose the second option, which caused Dave Martinez to summon Sammy Solis from the bullpen to face Williams. Wouldn’t you know it? Williams came through, singling in Florimon and tying the game. After Cesar Hernandez struck out against Brandon Kintzler, Rhys Hoskins smacked a double, bringing in Williams and giving them the lead. Odubel Herrera singled next, giving the team a much needed insurance run. In the eighth, the suddenly red hit Maikel Franco homered, extending the lead to three and giving the team what seemed like a comfortable cushion to turn over to the back end of the bullpen to close out.
After Luis Garcia, who ended the seventh, struck out and walked a batter, Kapler decided the bring in Tommy Hunter, who the day before had thrown 23 pitches. Not horrible, but definitely something that might raise an eyebrow or two. Hunter then proceeded to give up a walk, a strikeout, two singles and a final strikeout, an inning that ended with the Nationals producing two runs, tightening the game even further. When the Phillies went down quietly in the top of the ninth, the lead would be given to Hector Neris.
You know what happened next.
It’s probably actually time that the team had Neris relinquish his role as closer. This year, he’s still striking out a lot of guys, but everything else is up. It has been difficult to watch at times, but every time there is a lead, here comes Neris trotting in from the bullpen. At this point, having Tommy Hunter close out games would make some people feel a little more safe, at least until Pat Neshek arrives from the disabled list, but even after today’s performance, Hunter might make some people a little queasy as well. For now, we can probably expect the status quo in save situations, but at the very least, Kapler needs to begin considering matchups when it comes to late game relief options.
This is one that got away, one that the team should have won. They didn’t and they’ll look to get back on track at home tomorrow against the Giants.