The Nationals bullpen was mostly lights out in their season opener.
Entering Spring Training, expectations for Washington’s bullpen were high for the first time in what feels like forever. After years of futility, this was the deepest the relief core had ever been. Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Brad Hand, Jeremy Jeffress, Kyle Finnegan, Will Harris, Wander Suero, and the combination of Erick Fedde/Austin Voth were going to be leading the way.
Sadly, Washington’s pen crumbled before their eyes. Jeffress was cut for undisclosed reasons. Will Harris was placed on the IL due to a Blood Clot. Tanner Rainey suffered an injury and only made one appearance during Spring Training. Brad Hand was one of the many Nationals sidelined due to COVID/contract tracing. Erick Fedde and Austin Both were promoted to the starting rotations due to the absence of Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin, both who are also out due to COVID. This left Daniel Harris, Wander Suero, and Kyle Finnegan to lead the way.
In the mean time, it was next man up for Washington, with multiple players being called up from the minors. During the National’s opening series with the Braves, outside of two rough innings, the bullpen was lights out, with the unlikeliest of candidates leading the way. Kyle Finnegan and Daniel Hudson produced as expected, but Kyle McGowin, Sam Clay, and Luis Avilan were the ones who stole the show. The trio pitched the third, fourth, and sixth innings respectively, combing to allow no runs and only one hit.
McGowin came on in the top of the second with one on and two out and retired Dansby Swanson to end the threat. He came back out for the third and made quick work of the bottom of the lineup. Next up was rookie Sam Clay, who was making his MLB debut. After allowing a leadoff single to Ronald Acuna Jr., Clay buckled down and overpowered the next three hitters. Most notably, he fell behind both the reigning NL MVP Freedie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna 3-0, before battling back to strike them out. For Freeman, on all three strike calls, he had assumed he had walked and started to move towards first. Each time he had to hop back in the box just to be rung up on a questionable third strike. Against Ozuna, Clay had an opportunity to show off his filth, striking out the slugger with a slider in the dirt to end the inning.
Kyle Finnegan struck out the side in the fifth which led way for journey man Luis Avilan, who threw a one-two-three inning of his own. In the end Washington lost 7-6, but the bullpen was able to flash its depth, leaving the fans excited for more to come.