The San Francisco Giants entered Wednesday night with the best bullpen ERA in baseball and the Washington Nationals entered with the worst, but both bullpens struggled in the second game of the three-game set at Nationals Park, with the insurance runs the allowed by the Giants’ relievers making the difference in a 9-6 Nationals win.
Washington (8-8) was in control the whole way, getting four early runs off Jeff Samardzija, but the Giants struck for two runs off Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson in the fifth. Manager Dave Martinez pulled Hellickson at just 79 pitches with two outs in the top of the sixth, sensing a high-leverage situation, and the move paid off.
Pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval flew out against lefty Matt Grace to strand two runners, and after Wander Suero pitched a clean top of the seventh, the Nationals teed off against Travis Bergen, who had his first rough outing in the Major Leagues.
Bergen allowed a three-run home run to Matt Adams, who had hit his first homer of the season the prior night, and surrendered a two-run blast to Kurt Suzuki to stretch the deficit to seven.
For a brief moment, Nick Vincent’s strikeout of Adams to escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth seemed to be a key play as San Francisco (8-11) got four runs back, getting two-run homers from both Gerardo Parra and Steven Duggar, but the insurance runs Bergen allowed loomed large.
Santa Clara native and Wilcox High School alum Kyle Barraclough got Joe Panik to ground out while Sean Doolittle warmed up, and Doolittle took care of the last two outs despite allowing a double to Buster Posey.
Of course, none of the proceedings in the late innings would have happened if not for Samardzija’s struggles. Had he pitched well, the Giants would have likely used some mix of Reyes Moronta, Tony Watson and Will Smith out of their bullpen, but Samardzija’s erratic outing proved costly.
Whether it was that his seven shutout innings last week were the product of facing a weak Rockies lineup or effective offspeed pitches, he couldn’t generate the same results in D.C., allowing homers in the first inning to both Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick. Adam Eaton’s RBI single in the second made it 4-0, and Samardzija lasted just five innings.