Sunday was not a banner day for a Nationals bullpen that has for the most part exceeded expectations this season.
First, setup man Shawn Kelley - who has been reliable for most of this year - allowed two solo home runs in the top of the eighth. That vanished a two-run lead for the Nats, allowing the Padres to tie it at 6-6.
Then, in the ninth inning it was Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't allowed a run in eight straight outings since returning from the DL. His luck run out with a four-run frame, one that sunk the Nats with a 10-6 deficit.
That Kelley-Papelbon combination looked mighty good just one night before against the same team. But they couldn't close the deal in a game the Nationals held a two-run advantage entering the eighth inning.
Both pitchers blamed location for their problems. Manager Dusty Baker, though, offered one theory for Papelbon.
"I don’t like to make excuses, but I don’t like to use my closer three days in a row. And this was three days in a row for Pap," he said. "But we didn’t have a choice. The ball wasn’t coming out today the way it had been since he came back from the injury."
Papelbon shot down the premise that he was running out of gas.
"No, I was not tired," he said matter of factly.
It was, to be fair, just the second time this season he's been used for three straight days.
For Papelbon, his trouble started with a one-out walk to Wil Myers. From there, Yangervis Solarte landed an RBI single, and Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf then singled to load the bases. That set up a bases-clearing double by Alexei Ramirez to end Papelbon's day.
The closer, soaked in sweat on a 96-degree day, walked slowly off the mound and to the dugout to a cascade of boos from Nationals fans. It was his first uneven outing in a while, but it was an ugly one and the crowd let him hear all about it.
"It boiled down to location. Coming in there in a situation where we've gotta preserve everything we can, every pitch matters in that situation," Papelbon said.
Kelley's homers were hit by Dickerson and Schimpf. Both players took advantage of similar mistakes.
"Just two pitches that weren't up enough," Kelley said. "Both balls were on the corners in the right direction, I just wanted them a few balls higher. I just didn't get them there. I was just looking at them and talking to some people. They were not bad pitches, but to those two guys, they like the ball in those spots. Just gotta be better right off the bat and execute better with the heater."
Kelley and Papelbon have both enjoyed solid seasons and have formed an above average late-innings duo. But that may not stop the Nationals from pulling off an aggressive move before the trade deadline. They have already shown strong interest in Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and seem intent on adding at least something to their relief corps.
How Kelley and Papelbon will be affected is unclear. It will depend, of course, on what caliber pitcher they acquire, if they choose to bring one in.
For now, however, the Nats bullpen is focused on bouncing back Tuesday when the team travels to Cleveland to play the first-place Indians.
"We come out and whip their butts. That's what we do," Kelley said. This is a great team. We've got a resilient bullpen. A little blip today, but we'll be right back out there on Tuesday."
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Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-6 loss to the San Diego Padres on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.
How it happened: There are certain points in an MLB season where the magnifying glass comes over each roster, when singular performances can be honed in on and cast as part of a bigger picture, despite them occurring in the vast sea of a 162-game season.
The month of July, trade deadline season, is one of those times and on Sunday afternoon the first poor outing for Jonathan Papelbon in over a month just happened to occur amidst trade rumors involving the Nats and other closers around the league. If they were already inclined to seek help for the backend of their bullpen, Papelbon didn't do his part to change their mind in this one.
The right-hander hadn't allowed a run since June 12 with seven straight scoreless appearances since he returned from the disabled list on July 4. Against the Padres, though, he found trouble early with a four-pitch walk against Wil Myers with one out. Myers moved to second on a wild pitch and then scored on a Yangervis Solarte single. Papelbon allowed three more runs on a bases-clearing double by Alexei Ramirez to make it 10-6.
Papelbon's uneven ninth followed a rocky eighth inning by Shawn Kelley, who allowed two solo homers, the second to tie the game at 6-6. It was a rare collapse for the Nats bullpen, who followed a rough afternoon for starter Lucas Giolito. Giolito made it only 3 2/3 innings with four runs allowed, two of them earned.
Wilson Ramos hit his 14th homer of the season, Daniel Murphy drove in two runs and posted his 40th multi-hit game of the season. Trea Turner had two hits including a triple. Jayson Werth added a sacrifice fly and a walk to extend his streak of reaching base to 28 games, the second-longest of his career. And Giolito got his first career MLB hit, a single in the bottom of the third.
It was a solid day for the Nats' offense, but Papelbon's ninth made the difference.
What it means: The Nats fell to 58-41 on the season and lost their 2016 series against the Padres 3-4.
Giolito struggles again: The talent is there, but Giolito remains a work in progress. He ditched his full windup on Sunday to pitch out of the stretch and his velocity remained down. The uber prospect who threw a fastball that flirted with 100 is now consistently tossing 92-95. He's also avoiding his changeup. Giolito only threw four of them among his 66 total pitches on Sunday.
Giolito was yanked after 3 2/3 innings with four runs allowed, two of them earned. He didn't strike out a single batter and walked three. Giolito has now allowed six earned runs in 11 1/3 MLB innings with nine walks.
Three of the runs Giolito surrendered were on one play in the top of the third. Myers singled to center field with the bases loaded to score two, and another came home on a throw to second by Ramos.
Ramos hits No. 14: And we thought Bryce Harper's 451-foot homer on Wednesday night was a bomb. Ramos clubbed a 455-foot, three-run homer off lefty Christian Friedrich in the bottom of the third that nearly made it to the concourse. Ramos' sailed the no-doubter just four rows away from clearing the bleachers in left field. According to StatCast, the ball left his bat at 110 miles per hour. It was the longest homer hit by a Nationals player this season.
For Ramos, it was his 14th home run of the season. He is now just two away from tying the career-high of 16 he set back in 2013. Only one MLB catcher - Evan Gattis of the Astros - has more than Ramos this season.
Turner triples again: Turner's triple was his third in his last five games. It was a standup triple and it led off the bottom of the first. Turner then scored on Murphy's sacrifice fly. Turner's three triples in 10 games this season rank third on the Nats behind Murphy (4) and Ben Revere (5). At this rate he'll pass those guys very soon.
Up next: The Nats take Monday off before embarking on a long road trip beginning Tuesday in Cleveland. Gio Gonzalez (6-8, 4.53) will start the opener opposite Indians right-hander Danny Salazar (11-3, 2.75).
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Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett has suffered a significant setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
While rehabbing in Viera, Fla. on Friday, Barrett broke his right elbow. He will now see Dr. James Andrews on Monday to have his elbow fracture repaired and his ulnar collateral ligament examined.
Barrett had his UCL repaired last September by Andrews. He is eight months into the recovery, which generally takes 12 to 18 months. Barrett had at one point expressed hope of returning to the Nationals bullpen this September, but that is now in question.
Barrett also had bone chips removed from his elbow in September. And this past winter he had bone chips removed from his ankle. It has been a tough year for the right-hander, who broke onto the scene as a rookie in 2014.
Barrett, 28, has pitched in 90 total games for the Nationals. He posted a 2.66 ERA in 50 games in 2014. In 2015, Barrett held a 4.60 ERA through 40 outings.
The Nationals announced Barrett's elbow fracture on Sunday afternoon.
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