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By Andrew Simon
WASHINGTON — The task confronting Nationals left-hander Jerry Blevins on Wednesday afternoon was simple, yet challenging.
With the Nationals clinging to a 3-2 lead over the Dodgers in the eighth inning, starter Stephen Strasburg had put runners on first and second with one out to bring up Adrian Gonzalez, who has a .923 OPS this season, but only .631 against lefties. Nats manager Matt Williams played the matchups and brought in Blevins to face one batter for only the second time this season.
“Big spot,” Blevins said. “Stras pitched his butt off like a true ace. He came out in the eighth and tried to get out there as long as he could, and my main goal right there is to get that out for him, for the guys that fight.”
Blevins had pitched against Gonzalez six times in the past, holding him to 1-for-6 with two strikeouts. One of those matchups came in the series opener on Monday, when Blevins threw the sixth inning with a 2-0 lead. Facing Gonzalez as the potential tying run with two outs, Blevins whiffed him on four pitches, getting strike two on a sweeping curveball low and away and finishing him off and an up-and-in 89 mph two-seamer.
Blevins knew that in their second battle of the series, he’d have to make some adjustments.
“Yeah, I’m definitely aware that he’s such a well rounded hitter and he’s smart,” Blevins said. “He knows going in what I’ve got and how I got him out last time, so that factors in.”
Blevins’ goal was to try to induce a ground ball, while staying inside on Gonzalez to prevent him from extending his arms. He quickly put Gonzalez in a 1-2 hole with three sinkers, but this time, Gonzalez didn’t go down quickly. He fouled off two more sinkers, took a slider outside for a ball, fouled off another sinker and took a curveball in the dirt. That made the count 3-2 and ratcheted up the pressure on Blevins not to load the bases with a free pass.
“At that point it’s mano-a-mano,” Blevins said. “I’m going to throw what I think is the best pitch in this situation. I’m definitely going to throw him a strike…. I’m going to challenge him and make him put the ball in play.”
That’s what Blevins did, throwing Gonzalez two more up-and-in sinkers. Jammed both times, Gonzalez fouled them off, and the second one found its way into Anthony Rendon’s glove for the out.
Blevins’ job was done, and the Nats held on to win the game and the series.
The eight-year veteran now has made 18 appearances and posted a 2.93 ERA over 15 1/3 innings, allowing 12 hits, walking six, striking out 19 and stranding all nine inherited runners. Although Blevins has not been strictly a left-handed specialist throughout his career, he has completely neutralized lefties this season. They are 3-for-26 against him, with one double, two walks and 12 strikeouts, for a line of .115/.179/.154.
“He’s been great for us,” Williams said.
Now Blevins will make his return to Oakland, as the Nats open a three-game series on Friday against his former club. He played his first seven big league seasons with the A’s, from 2007-13, and won division titles the last two years there.
“We weren’t very good when I first [arrived in Oakland],” Blevins said. “They had a good Minor League system. A lot of guys came up. We played together as a team and went off from there. We believed in each other.”
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