Lefties in bullpen going through rough patch
By Andrew Simon
WASHINGTON — Twice during Wednesday night’s 6-3 loss to the Braves, Nationals manager Davey Johnson called on a left-handed reliever in a crucial spot. Both times, that pitcher did not get the job done, highlighting an issue that has plagued the team throughout much of the season and caused problems again of late.
During last year’s run to a division title, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny gave Johnson three effective bullpen options from the left side. Each posted an ERA of 3.03 or lower and each left the team via free agency.
The Nats began 2013 with long reliever Zach Duke as their only lefty reliever, but that experiment fizzled. The situation improved in late May, however, when Washington dug into its Minor League system. Fernando Abad, signed this offseason, was called up from Triple-A Syracuse on May 21. Ian Krol, acquired in a trade from the A’s, arrived from Double-A Harrisburg on June 4.
Both started out hot. Both have been struggling for an extended period of time, even if their ERAs don’t show the extent of the damage. The following numbers are based around arbitrary cutoff points but give an idea as to how the situation has been trending.
Abad and Krol’s first 18 combined games:
17.1 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 21 K, .089 opp. avg., 0.40 WHIP, 0 of 6 inherited runners scored
Last 32 combined games:
28.2 IP, 43 H, 7 BB, 19 K, .341 opp. avg., 1.74 WHIP, 11 of 15 inherited runners scored
“It was really good,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said of his left-handed relief, “and now when we’re leaning on them, they’re having a few blips on the radar screen.”
The latest came on Wednesday. Abad entered a tie game in the seventh inning and served up a rocket of a home run to Justin Upton. Krol entered a tie game in the eighth, in a perilous situation, with runners on first and second, two outs and Jason Heyward at the plate. The 22-year-old rookie got Heyward into an 0-2 count but left a breaking ball over the plate, something Johnson called, “an inexperienced, bad mistake.” Krol paid for it with the go-ahead RBI single, and Upton followed with a two-run double.
After the game, Krol talked about missing his spot and admitted he might have been better off going to an inside fastball. He’s been trying to adjust to the adjustments hitters have made to him, and it’s caused him to deviate from his strengths.
“They seem to be jumping on my fastball a little more early than usual,” Krol said. “I’ve been trying to pitch backward, and that’s not my game. My game is to go after them with fastballs and attacking the zone, so I need to get back to what I was doing before, and like I said, just clear my head and have a short memory.”