MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Nationals' bullpen makes statement in KC

Nationals' bullpen makes statement in KC

KANSAS CITY -- The defending-champion Royals have been to two straight World Series thanks in large part to a dominating stable of endgame relievers. The Nationals missed the 2015 postseason in no small part because of bullpen shortcomings.

Kansas City's 'pen is still top-notch, so Washington didn't exactly flip the script on Monday night, but it definitely joined the party.

In the last three innings of the Nationals' 2-0 win over the Royals, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez and closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out a combined four batters and allowed one hit.

In the eighth inning, Alcides Escobar led off with a double off Kelley. After Kelley struck out Lorenzo Cain looking, Perez entered the game and struck out the next two hitters -- Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales -- on seven pitches.

During the winter, the Nationals overhauled the unit by adding pitchers like Perez and Kelley, moves that are paying early dividends for the current National League East leaders. The Washington bullpen enters Tuesday's action with a 2.49 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings.

According to manager Dusty Baker, the bullpen has been dominating because the relievers know their roles on the team. The skipper doesn't rely on just three pitchers. All seven guys in the bullpen contribute.

"We didn't know where we were going to slot them," Baker said. "That was the only question. We found out rather quickly where we were going to put guys, where we should use them, how many days [they are going to pitch per week]. We had some interchangeable parts. The guys feel confident. Confidence is the key. We have to keep pitching and keep doing what we are doing."

Perez said Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux communicate well with the bullpen, and the relievers get the job done when they have to.

"Being in the bullpen, you are watching the game and you mentally prepare for the situation that is coming up," Perez said. "We understand what we have to do. I understand we lost those three games to the Phillies. You try to do the job every day and come out winning. We've been able to turn it around. Keep a winning streak going. Hopefully, it continues."

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002. He writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.