Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nationals Park, shortly after a monster storm rolled through tonight.
Check out these ERAs for Washington's relievers in June...
Tyler Clippard: 0.90
Sean Burnett: 1.35
Tyler Walker: 2.08
Drew Storen: 2.53
Matt Capps: 3.38
Miguel Batista: 3.86
Doug Slaten: 5.79
Pretty impressive. For the season, the Nationals' bullpen owns a 3.45 ERA. That's fourth-best in the NL, seventh-best in the majors. Again, pretty impressive.
Tonight, the club will pay homage to the two guys who have been pitching the eighth and ninth innings all season: Clippard and Capps. Tonight's giveaway T-shirts have a picture of a giant coupon, emblazoned with the words "Clipp and Save." (Yes, that slogan was first coined by former Washington Times copy editor Steve Repsher.)
"It's kind of neat," said Capps, who got a glimpse of the shirts the other day. "It's a cool feeling, and something neat for your friends and family to see and to have. For the team to think that much of you, it's a good feeling."
So, how might the Nationals best commemorate the occasion tonight? How about taking a one- or two-run lead into the eighth inning against the Royals, then handing this game over to their most-trusted relievers? We'll see if they can pull that off.
Check back for updates throughout...
ROYALS at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 90 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
RF Roger Bernadina
2B Adam Kennedy
P Luis Atilano
LF Scott Podsednik
C Jason Kendall
CF David DeJesus
1B Billy Butler
RF Jose Guillen
3B Alberto Callaspo
2B Mike Aviles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
P Anthony Lerew
5:47 p.m. -- Before we get to tonight's game, an ticket update on tomorrow's game featuring Stephen Strasburg: They're still available. As of this moment, they're looking at a crowd in the mid-30,000s. Could be the first non-sellout after Strasburg's first two home starts were packed to the gills. Still, 35,000 wouldn't be too shabby for a Wednesday afternoon against the Royals.
6:42 p.m. -- The All-Star Futures Game rosters were announced today. Representing the Nationals in Anaheim next month will be Harrisburg shortstop Danny Espinosa and Hagerstown outfielder Eury Perez.
7:06 p.m. -- This one is underway with a strike from Luis Atilano to Scott Podsednik. Looks like a slightly larger crowd tonight than last night, but still under 20,000. They could end up drawing more fans tomorrow than the first two games of the series combined.
7:10 p.m. -- Atilano cruises through the top of the Royals' lineup in the first. Podsednik roped a line drive but right at Cristian Guzman at shortstop. Atilano then took care of the rest himself, striking out both Jason Kendall and David DeJesus, the latter on a called third strike that DeJesus didn't seem to like. Nevertheless, a really quick inning for Atilano.
7:14 p.m. -- Speaking of efficiency, Anthony Lerew just retired the Nats on seven pitches, all strikes. He even faced four batters, pitching around Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single to get out of the inning without suffering any damage. Both Nyjer Morgan and Adam Dunn made outs on the first pitch they saw. So we're scoreless after one.
7:24 p.m. -- Couple of singles by the Royals in the second, but Atilano escapes the jam with a nifty play on Yuniesky Betancourt's comebacker. Thirty-one pitches for Atilano through two innings, 20 strikes.
7:36 p.m. -- Atilano has not been a strikeout pitcher all season; he entered tonight with 25 Ks in 60 1/3 innings. So naturally, he's punched out four Royals through three innings. Where did this come from? Still scoreless as we go to the bottom of the third.
7:40 p.m. -- A two-out rally in the third puts the Nationals on top 1-0. Guzman singles to right, and Zimmerman follows with a big double down the left-field line. Zim has now reached base in five of six plate appearances against Kansas City.
8:07 p.m. -- I've been covering baseball for 10 years now, and I've seen my share of thunderstorms. But I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like what we're experiencing right now. A huge storm is blowing through Nationals Park. The rain and wind are as intense as I've ever seen. Fans have nowhere to go for shelter, because it's coming in sideways. Fortunately, it's a small cell that should pass through shortly and then clear up. Hopefully, it'll cool things off as well.
8:20 p.m. -- The tarp is now coming off the field. Still raining lightly, but nothing like before. They should be back underway shortly.
8:22 p.m. -- Oh, by the way, the Nats currently lead 3-0 in the fourth. I failed to mention that Josh Willingham hit his 100th career homer and Nyjer Morgan drove in his 10 run of the season with a sac fly. When they resume, the Nats will still have runners on the corners and two outs with Cristian Guzman at the plate.
8:43 p.m. -- They're saying the game should resume at 8:50 p.m. Luis Atilano was just warming up in the bullpen, so it looks like he'll stay in the game.
8:53 p.m. -- And we're back after a 49-minute delay.
9:05 p.m. -- I don't know if it was the delay or something else, but Atilano was not nearly as successful in the fifth as he was before the rain came. In his defense, the Royals put two men on base with an infield single and a blooper to shallow center. Still, Kansas City turned that into its first run of the night. So after five, the Nats now lead 3-1.
9:14 p.m. -- Did you know that 45 of the Nats' 65 homers this season have been solo shots? That 69.2 percent rate is the highest in the majors, and tells you that Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham haven't been getting many opportunities with runners on base, and when they have, they haven't come through. That said, it's hard to find fault with the blast Dunn just hit. It caromed off the wall on the side of the batter's eye in center field, at least 440 feet from the plate. Just a bomb. Nats now lead 4-1 in the fifth.
9:26 p.m. -- Atilano is done after 5 1/3 impressive innings. Joel Peralta making his Nationals debut, facing a Royals club he used to pitch for.
9:42 p.m. -- We go to the seventh, Nats still holding a 4-1 lead thanks to a double-play grounder induced by Peralta. Now, Riggleman's got his bullpen set up for the remainder of this game. Drew Storen will pitch the eighth. It's all set up for "Clipp and Save" to finish this out on their T-shirt night.
9:47 p.m. -- Tonight's paid attendance: 21,168. So they need to draw at least 34,761 on Strasmas tomorrow to surpass the combined attendance the last two nights. I think they'll do it.
9:51 p.m. -- Perfect inning of relief for Storen. His updated season totals: 2-1, 2.08 ERA, 16 appearances, 4 earned runs in 17.1 innings pitched. Not bad, kid.
9:54 p.m. -- Hmm, no action in the pen. Might Storen return for a second inning of work, as Riggleman tries to keep Clippard fresh to relieve Strasburg tomorrow? Makes some sense.
10:07 p.m. -- Well, Riggleman did try to squeeze a second inning out of Storen. Unfortunately, the rookie put the first two Royals he faced on base. So Tyler Clippard is on after all. "Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free. Look out!"
10:17 p.m. -- It's OK, you can exhale. Billy Butler's drive to center only reached the warning track and Nyjer Morgan hauled it in. Close call there, but Clippard got the job done. Still 4-1 heading to the bottom of the eighth.
10:25 p.m. -- Here comes Capps. It's "The Final Countdown" on "Clipp and Save" Night!
10:39 p.m. -- Well, that's not the way Matt Capps wanted to do it, but he got the job done in the end. He loaded the bases, then allowed a two-out, two-run single to Podsednik, cutting the lead to 4-3, with the tying run on sescond. But "Save" held up his end of the bargain, and the Nats are now on an honest-to-god winning streak. That's two in a row over the Royals. Atilano gets the win, improves to 6-4. Clippard gets the hold. Capps gets his 22nd save. Stephen Strasburg gets to go for the series sweep tomorrow afternoon.