Nationals’ bullpen finding success in unlikely places

Nats’ bullpen finding success in unlikely places originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — The Nationals were forced to turn Game 1 of their Saturday doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies over to their bullpen in just the fourth inning. Starter Aaron Sanchez received plenty of run support from the offense, but he unraveled after recording only 11 outs and manager Davey Martinez had no choice but to make the walk to the mound.

He then saw his bullpen turn in five and a third scoreless frames to help Washington (17-30) pick up a 13-7 victory and extend its winning streak to three games. Those contributions didn’t come from closer Tanner Rainey nor top set-up man Kyle Finnegan. Instead, it was Erasmo Ramírez, Carl Edwards Jr. and Víctor Arano combining to blank the Rockies.

“Our bullpen has been doing well,” Martinez said in his press conference between games. “Knock on wood. They really have been doing well. I feel really confident if we have the lead late in games that these guys can come in and do the job they did today so it’s awesome to see. Very gratifying for that as well.”

All three of those right-handers signed with the Nationals over the offseason as non-roster invitees. They showed up to spring training without any assurance they would receive a spot on the roster and, in fact, only Arano broke camp with the team. Ramírez and Edwards Jr. both reported to Triple-A Rochester, where they combined for a minuscule 0.42 ERA in 18 games.

“They have been great, they really have,” Martinez said. “For me, this is a testament about our guys, our scouts, the guys up top, Mike [Rizzo] and those guys. Our analytical guys feeling that these guys could help. We were on Arano really, really early. We really liked his stuff when he was with Philly. He is one acquisition we got fairly early and then Arasmo came later. But the biggest thing with him and CJ was health. If these guys were healthy we felt like they can help.”

The Nationals signed Arano on Nov. 24, one of the few moves the team made before the lockout paused all transactions. He hadn’t appeared in an MLB game since 2019 when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his throwing elbow. A shoulder injury then sidelined him for all of 2020 and he spent last season in the Atlanta Braves’ minor-league system.

Ramírez and Edwards Jr. both signed with the club in March. They were each coming off seasons in which they spent time on the Injured List and finished with ERAs above 5.00. After establishing themselves in Rochester, injuries to relievers such as Sean Doolittle and Mason Thompson, coupled with disappointing performances out of Sam Clay and Patrick Murphy, created opportunities for them to carry over their success to the majors.

Now, Ramírez leads the Nationals’ bullpen with a 2.25 ERA while Edwards Jr. is already being trusted in high-leverage situations. Arano has appeared in more games than any other reliever on the team and he’s the only pitcher other than Rainey to convert a save for them this year.

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