Nats GM on Kershaw coming in: 'Anybody but Buehler right now'

By 106.7 The Fan

Dodgers fans aren't going to like the sound of this. 

Two days after his club completed a heroic comeback to eliminate Los Angeles from the postseason, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was asked what he was thinking when he saw Dave Roberts bring Clayton Kershaw out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of Game 5 Wednesday. The Dodgers led 3-1 at that point and had two outs.

"At that time, you're thinking, 'Anybody but Buehler right now' and it would have been an easier task," Rizzo told The Sports Junkies during his weekly appearance, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank.

"That kid is a monster, man," Rizzo said. "He's got great stuff. He's got poise. He throws strikes. He's got a repertoire that's extremely tough to hit. He's a classic power pitcher. My mindset was 'anybody but this guy right now, we have a chance.' Down two runs, it's still anybody's ballgame and the way this team has been relentless in scoring runs late and coming back."

While Kershaw struck Adam Eaton out to strand Nats runners on first and second, Roberts left him in the game to pitch to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto at the top of the eight. Both homered.

"I was extremely happy with Stras," Rizzo said. "Got his pitch count under control, went six solid innings for us. And then our bullpen did a magnificent job of throwing zeroes up against that lineup the rest of the way.

"You know, I was hopeful, I was optimistic that we could scratch out a couple runs and tie this thing up and go ahead. That's been the script for about four-and-a-half months right now, so that was my expectations and everybody around me. It was something that you've watched for the last 110 games or so, the way we were playing."

In the end, it was Howie Kendrick who hit the game-winning Grand Slam in the top of the 10th, a sweet bit of redemption for the veteran after his miserable series in the field. Rizzo was front and center to watch the magic unfold.

"I was in Row 1 of the stands surrounded by a bunch of Dodger fans," he said. "It was pretty fun watching them quiet them down and listening to that stadium – about 50,000 people – go dead silent, except for a few pockets of Nats fans screaming their heads off. It was wonderful silence as we departed Dodger Stadium."

After the four-run blast, TBS cameras caught Max Scherzer sprinting from the bullpen. Surely the Nationals didn't intend to use Scherzer, who had just thrown 109 pitches in the Nats' Game 4 win two days earlier? 

"He was our emergency guy," Rizzo said. "We spoke to him early on after he played catch there. He had about two hitters in him that, if in an emergency situation, we needed two big outs – most importantly against the middle of their lineup – if we needed to go to two hitters, that's what he had in his arm.

"So he went down there just in case something went awry there with Doolittle. But it was an emergency basis only and he had very, very limited pitches in him."

Rizzo says Victor Robles, who's been lost with a hamstring injury since Game 2, will be on the NLCS roster and should be available as a pinch-hitter.

"He's getting better. He's improving. He's been cleared by our medical staff to perform," he said. "He is certainly able to pinch-hit right now. We're not sure if he's 100 percent perfect about doing all aspects of it, like burst on the bases and in center field yet to our satisfaction, but he's able, he's playable and he'll be on the roster."

The Nationals have gotten creative to survive thus far, using starters Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer in relief at various points to avoid going to less reliable options out of the pen. It's hard to imagine they could keep that up over a seven-game series, but Rizzo's holding his cards close the vest on that one.

"I haven't gone into the specifics yet on usage," he said. "Davey and I haven't gone over the strategy yet, of how we're going to implement our roster. But, yeah, it's all hands on deck. We're trying to go 1-0 tonight and that's been our philosophy since the end of May, and we'll continue to employ that philosophy throughout the playoffs."

"Each game is vital and each inning is vital, and we'll treat it as such," he added. "You saw the implementation of that stuff against the Dodgers. Starters stepped up in the bullpen and the bullpen guys were terrific. We feel good about how we're going to finish this game off to give us a chance to win tonight's game."