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.
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.”