by Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON — In two straight losses, Nationals manager Matt Williams has forgone the opportunity to pitch Jonathan Papelbon in high leverage situations.

In Monday’s 8-5 loss to St. Louis, Casey Janssen entered the game with a two-run lead in the seventh inning, and gave up the lead before handing it off to Felipe Rivero, who gave up three more runs.

On Tuesday, Janssen took over a 5-5 game in the ninth and gave up a three-run walk-off home run for another 8-5 Nationals loss.

Williams explained his thinking Wednesday morning, telling 106.7 The Fan, “All these people want to know why Papelbon isn’t in the game because we lost. He’s our closer. He’s the one that closes the game.”

Later in the afternoon, GM Mike Rizzo defended his manager’s decision-making during his weekly radio address for the second time in three weeks, telling 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, “Matt Williams did a masterful job last night, in my mind, putting people in a position to succeed.”

Rizzo noted the Nats’ 55-5 record while playing with a lead after seven innings, and their 43-2 record while playing with a two-run lead after seven.

“The sixth and seventh inning that Matt managed was unbelievably well-crafted,” he said. “He got us to the point where he pushed all the right buttons. Put in the lefty for a lefty. He’s got the matchup he wanted, and in a real tough situation, brought in Blake Treinen because he’s a ground-ball pitcher and you’re trying to induce a double play ball. Got the double play in the big situation.”

Tuesday’s initial plan was to give the ball to Papelbon in the ninth, Rizzo explained, but Drew Storen allowed the Cardinals to tie the game on two runs, so Williams went with Janssen instead.

“We’re 43-2 in those instances,” Rizzo said. “So put guys in positions to succeed; hey, it’s baseball. It happens. Guys don’t succeed all the time. Mariano Rivera gave up the game-winning  hit in the 2001 World Series, I always say that.”

“There was ample opportunities to score more runs,” he said. “There was ample opportunities to make plays defensively that we didn’t make, some bad decisions and we just, we lost to a really, really good baseball team. But as far as putting guys into positions to succeed, that was done.

“I thought he did a great job of getting us to the eighth inning with a two-run lead — that’s where we want to be. If we’re there tonight, again — the eighth inning with a two-run lead — I’ll be extremely happy and feel extremely good about it. And that’s the way we constructed this team and this bullpen, and that’s the way we’re going to run with it.”

As for Monday, Rizzo says no one in the media felt like asking Williams ‘Why didn’t you use Storen in the eighth?’ Had they asked, Rizzo says the answer would have been ‘because Storen was unavailable to pitch Monday in the game.’

“No one asked the question!” he said. “No one asked the question, and then [Williams] gets ripped for not using a player that is unable and unavailable to pitch that day.”

“There’s a lot of stuff that is known by the ballclub and not by the general public, and that’s the way it should be, and that’s fine,” Rizzo said, echoing his point two weeks earlier. “And critiquing a manager, that’s what this thing is all about. We’re all armchair managers, and Monday morning quarterbacks and that type of thing. And that’s what makes this game so beautiful, is that we can follow along and manage with them.”

Not entirely satisfied with that response, Pauslen followed up by asking Rizzo if his manager should always go by the book, or if there are situations — like, possibly, being 6.5 games back in the NL East with 31 games to play — which would make it OK for Papelbon to pitch in innings other than the ninth.

“Mike Matheny, who’s a terrific manager on a terrific team with the best record in baseball — we’re here in St. Louis — is getting railed with the same questions that he did with the same situation,” Rizzo said.

“Managers have to manage according to what they have on their ballclub that night, and that night is the key component to each and any question,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a hard and fast way — by-the-book of managing A, B, C, D — no, and I think Matt showed that last night.”

Funny Rizzo should bring up the Cardinals manager.

In last year’s NLCS, the Cardinals, on the brink of being eliminated by the Giants, were deadlocked heading into the ninth inning of Game 5. Instead of going with trusted closer Trevor Rosenthal, Matheny brought in starter Michael Wacha, who hadn’t thrown in well over a month due to injury.

Wacha gave up a three-run home run to end the Cardinals’ season.

Asked after the game why he didn’t pitch Rosenthal, Matheny said, “We can’t bring him in in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

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