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Nationals bullpen, used early and often, comes up big

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Nationals bullpen, used early and often, comes up big

WASHINGTON—Dusty Baker did something he probably never would have done in a regular season game. He pulled starter Tanner Roark with a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning of Sunday’s Division Series Game against Los Angeles with two on and one out, and it paid off.

Baker’s bullpen—five relievers in all—combined to allow just one hit, and that didn’t come until the ninth inning when the Nationals already had a three-run lead and one out. 

Roark had already given up seven hits, and the Nationals manager noted they had already loaded the bases twice. 

“Just kind of looked like they were on him, and you know, we had the lead, and we didn’t want to trade places with them,” Baker said. 

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Baker, managing in his 47th postseason game, called on his most experienced postseason reliever, Marc Rzepczynski, appearing in his 19th postseason game. 

Rzepczynski faced seven batters, the second most since he was acquired from Oakland on Aug. 25, and got four outs. 

He walked three, but left the game for Sammy Solis, who retired Adrian Gonzalez on a fly out to left, ending the seventh. 

“That was a big part of the game and a big part of the lineup. We stretched him out further than we usually do,” Baker said. 

“We stretched him out because of the time of the game that we were in, and I think he tired a bit. That’s why I went and got him because he’s usually throwing ground balls. He usually doesn’t walk people.” 

Rzepczynski, known as “Scrabble” for the exceedingly difficult pronunciation of his name (it’s zep-CHIN-skee), admitted he was tired when he walked his final batter Justin Turner just after he struck out Corey Seager. He also walked Yasiel Puig and Chase Utley

The 31-year-old left-hander wasn’t surprised that Baker went to him so early. 

“I’m thinking it’s playoffs,” Rzepczynski said. “No, I was not surprised. With his kind of lineup, I knew it was going to be one of the lefties early if Tanner got in trouble. I was definitely ready, fifth inning, sixth inning, it doesn’t matter.”

Blake Treinen came in to start the seventh, got four outs and was awarded the win because he was judged the most effective reliever. 

“A lot of adrenaline. You sit in the bullpen and watch the game transpire, and then actually getting out there, you have to bring yourself down,” Treinen said. 

Oliver Perez got the final two outs of the eighth, and Mark Melancon worked the ninth for the save. 

Treinen wasn’t surprised to see Baker make the call so early in the game. 

“A lot of times you probably ride your starter out. It’s playoffs. It’s still new to me, so I’m not going to sit here and try and analyze that,” Treinen said. 

Los Angeles starter Rich Hill was also pulled after 4 1/3 innings, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also used five relievers. 

“Both sides were aggressively going to their bullpen, and this kind of shows you the importance of the bullpen in these playoffs,” Baker said. 

Baker, who managed his first postseason game in 1997, knows it’s a different game now. Cleveland manager Terry Francona used his best reliever, Andrew Miller, in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the Indians series with Boston

“I don’t know if it’s the new normal, but with the pitchers not throwing complete games very often, that is how the game has evolved,” Baker said. 

It was the first postseason game for Solis and Treinen. 

“A lot of these kids, they’re ready. Blake’s first appearance was today. You saw how good he was,” Rzepczynski said. 

The postseason veteran didn’t try and chat up the playoff newbies. 

“We talk a little bit about it, but I don’t try and worry about the past too much,” Rzepczynski said. “Having the playoff experience helps, but it’s definitely nerve wracking at the same time.” 

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Nationals six-game winning streak comes to an end in Los Angeles

Nationals six-game winning streak comes to an end in Los Angeles

The book on Alex Meyer was pretty clear: big stuff, bigger control problems.

Not so much Wednesday night for the 6-foot-9 right-hander.

Meyer executed nearly to perfection while allowing a hit and a walk over seven innings and leading the Los Angeles Angels to a 7-0 victory that ended the Washington Nationals' six-game winning streak.

MORE NATS: NATS BOLSTER BULLPEN

"We really didn't have much of a chance," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "Our reports were he didn't have very good command, but he did tonight."

Meyer (4-5) had a perfect game until he walked Anthony Rendon with two outs in the fifth. He lost his no-hitter with two outs in the sixth when Brian Goodwin doubled down the right-field line.

Meyer, Rendon and Goodwin were all first-round draft picks by the Nationals in 2011.

"I went to breakfast with (Goodwin) this morning and paid for it," Meyer said. "I'll have to talk to him about that."

Meyer had been plagued by walks this season (41 in 60 1/3 innings) but had just the one free pass in a career-high seven innings. He struck out seven.

David Hernandez and Jose Alvarez each threw a scoreless, hitless inning to complete the one-hitter. It was only the second time this season the Nationals have been shut out.

"To make outs the way he did says a lot about his upside and potential," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Mike Trout and C.J. Cron each hit two-run homers to support Meyer. For Trout, it was his 18th of the season.

Gio Gonzalez (8-5) started for the Nationals but gave up a pair of first-inning runs on Albert Pujols' single and Andrelton Simmons' sacrifice fly, and it was all the runs Los Angeles would need.

Washington outfielder Bryce Harper did not play in the nationally televised game. It was a scheduled day off.

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Zimmerman sets franchise HR record, Nationals beat Reds 6-1

Zimmerman sets franchise HR record, Nationals beat Reds 6-1

The NL East leaders opened the second half of the season with a franchise record, a series sweep and a significant upgrade -- exactly how the Nationals wanted to keep their momentum going.

Ryan Zimmerman set the Nationals' career home run record with a solo shot, and Bryce Harper connected again on Monday as Washington powered its way to a 6-1 victory for a four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.

Zimmerman's 235th career homer moved him ahead of Vladimir Guerrero for most in Expos and Nationals history. Guerrero quickly tweeted congratulations , saying he doesn't mind being second.

"It's special to be in one place your entire career," said Zimmerman, in his 12th season with the team that made him a first-round draft pick. "You can't do stuff like this if you're not in the same place for a long time. So I feel very lucky to have spent my entire career here, honored to have hit more home runs than any Expo or National. It's cool."

The Nationals emerged from the All-Star break with an emphatically successful series -- 13 homers, including three by Harper, and 35 runs overall by the league's top offense. It was the Nationals' first four-game sweep of the Reds and left them 6-1 against Cincinnati this season.

Washington improved to a season-high 20 games over .500 (56-36) with its ninth victory in 11 games.

The Nationals' roster got a little better during the series, too. Washington shored up its weak bullpen by getting relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from Oakland on Sunday. They'll join the team in Los Angeles for the start of a series against the Angels on Tuesday.

"We know we have a good team and we've put ourselves in a good spot to start the second half, but we've got a ways to go," Zimmerman said. "Obviously we acquired two talented guys for the bullpen, and we'll just try to keep scoring runs so that they can come in and lock the games up."

Stephen Strasburg (10-3) recovered from his shortest start of the season by fanning 11 in seven innings and allowing four hits, including Eugenio Suarez's homer. Strasburg left his last start -- a 13-0 loss to Atlanta on July 8 -- after Nick Markakis' liner deflected off his hip in the third inning.

He allowed only two hits -- including an infield single -- in his last five innings.

"Your body wants to pretend it's the offseason," Strasburg said of the break between starts. "It took a little while to get going."

Scott Feldman (7-7) lasted only one inning, limited by a stiff right knee that has been bothering him. He gave up a double, a single, Harper's three-run homer and Zimmerman's solo shot in his first 12 pitches. Feldman left after facing nine batters and giving up five runs on 33 pitches.

"It wouldn't loosen up," Feldman said of the knee. "It was one of those days. I put the team in a tough spot. We were down five runs right off the bat."

Harper's homer extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Brian Goodwin's solo shot made it 6-1 in the sixth.

4 FOR 4

The last time the Nationals swept a four-game series was last season against Atlanta. It was the 11th four-game sweep in Nationals history.

KEEP RUNNING

Daniel Murphy scored from second base on Matt Wieter's fly out in the first inning, turning it into a sacrifice fly. Right fielder Scooter Gennett made a diving catch in the gap and then stumbled and dropped the ball while trying to get up, giving Murphy enough time to make it home.

STATS

It was Strasburg's sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and the 35th of his career. ... Anthony Rendon extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Nationals starters allowed only one run in the series. ... The 13 homers allowed in a series matched the Reds' club record.

NATIONALS MOVES

Washington called up right-hander Jacob Turner from Triple-A. Right-hander Koda Glover -- sidelined since April by a hip injury -- was moved to the 60-day DL.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: CF Michael Taylor hasn't yet started baseball-related activities as he recovers from a strained right oblique. He went on the DL on July 7.

Reds: C Devin Mesoraco began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville. He'll play a few games and be re-evaluated. He's been sidelined since July 5 with a strained left shoulder.

UP NEXT

Nationals: They face the Angels for the first time since 2011. Washington is 6-7 in interleague play this season.

Reds: RHP Sal Romano (1-1) will be called up to make his third career start when the Reds face the Diamondbacks. He also started on April 16 against Milwaukee and July 6 at Colorado.