PITTSBURGH — The Washington Nationals have a ton of bullpen issues. Even so, they will look for that unit to do even more than usual on Wednesday, as right-hander Jacob Turner will be called from the bullpen to make a spot start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Nationals played a doubleheader on Sunday, which necessitated an extra arm in manager Dusty Baker's rotation. Turner was stretched out earlier in the year, so he was the logical choice.
Turner has a 2-1 record and a 3.31 ERA in seven appearances this season, but just one of those was a start, and that came back on April 24. Since then, he has pitched more than two innings just once and not at all since May 3.
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In his career, Turner has been a starter more often than a reliever, with 54 of his 86 career appearances coming in a starting role. His only career action against the Pirates came as a starter in 2014, when Turner was with the Chicago Cubs. He lost that game, giving up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in what is now essentially ancient history.
However, the Nationals' bullpen struggles are very much up to the minute. The team's relievers have the second-worst ERA in the National League, and several pitchers who were expected to have prominent roles have struggled out of the chute.
Joe Blanton (9.49 ERA), Blake Treinen (8.10 ERA) and Shawn Kelley (7.15 ERA) all have inflated numbers. Treinen and Kelley -- along with Koda Glover and Enny Romero -- were part of the group of relievers expected to compete for saves. Instead of one player stepping up, Baker has been left to mix and match while the quartet muddles through.
Glover earned the nod in the ninth inning on Tuesday, but it took him 29 pitches to get through the scoreless frame to complete an 8-4 win over the Pirates, bringing into question his availability for Wednesday.
"We've got to get his pitch count down so he can go the next day and the next day," Baker said.
With the bullpen already missing Turner and the spot starter unlikely to turn in a long outing, the game very well could come down to the back of the Nationals' bullpen again.
"On the real good teams that I've had, when you get to the sixth or seventh inning, we know it and they know that the game is over," Baker said. "And so we just got to go back to the drawing board to try to figure it out. We've used different guys in different places and different guys late in the game."
The Pirates will counter with their starting pitcher who has most reliably gone deep into games, Gerrit Cole. The right-hander has recorded seven consecutive quality starts and has a 3.06 ERA on the season. However, his record is just 1-4 thanks to some lacking run support.
That has been a common theme in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are hitting just .224 on the season, second worst in the National League.
"Guys are going up there fighting," manager Clint Hurdle said after his team went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday. "We just keep playing the game."
Cole is 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA in four career starts against Washington.