Davey Martinez talked before tonight’s series opener with the Pittsburgh Pirates about how he tried to stay positive in spite of the struggles that the Washington Nationals’ relief corps has dealt with over the first eleven games of the 2019 campaign.
Heading into play on Friday night, after a strong finish on the recently-completed road trip, the Nationals’ relievers as a group had a National League-worst 7.79 ERA, a 5.08 FIP, which was the seventh-highest in the NL, a .299 batting average against, tied for second-highest, and a 1.73 WHIP, which was the fourth-highest among NL teams.
So ... how does he stay positive?
“I mean, it’s a long year,” Martinez explained, “... and they understand that, but you have conversations with them and the biggest thing for me is to just reiterate, ‘Just know who you are, and pitch to your strengths.’ And work ahead in counts. Strike one is huge. If you look at some of the numbers, they were successful because they were ahead in counts a lot. When you fall behind, we’ve got some pretty good hitters in this league, and they understand that, but — I said this before, you’ve got to have confidence in those guys, got to have confidence in all those guys, and I said, ‘Things will turn around,’ and I explained to them — Hey, everybody always talks about hitters in April, they’re good, they’re bad, same thing goes with pitchers. Sometimes you start off slower than others, and you’ve just got to keep battling.”
Patrick Corbin gave the Nationals seven strong in the series opener with the Pirates, but the 2-1 lead he handed to the bullpen turned into a 3-2 deficit in the top of the eighth with Tony Sipp giving up leadoff and one-out singles before Kyle Barraclough came on and gave up a two-run single on a knee-high 1-0 fastball down the middle of the plate to Starling Marte.
Anthony Rendon homered for the second time in the game and sixth time this season in the bottom of the eighth, tying it up at 3-3, but it went to extras innings and Matt Grace gave up a leadoff double on a 1-0 sinker to Melky Cabrera, and Adam Frazier reached on an error by Grace on a sac bunt before the left-hander was lifted.
Justin Miller took over and recorded one out before giving up a three-run homer by pinch hitter Colin Moran on an 0-2 fastball up and out over the middle, 6-3 Pirates.
Martinez expressed some concerns about Miller’s velocity in his post game presser, and the reliever told reporters that he was diagnosed with a lower back strain which is going to land him on the 10-Day Injured List.
Miller said his back issues began last weekend in NY, but feel different than what he felt in spring training: "It just feels like somebody's punching me in the kidney every single time I try and throw a ball." https://t.co/mepwQ8SEnA— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) April 13, 2019
As for the continuing bullpen issues overall? Martinez’s squad got a good start from Corbin and three runs of support, but the relief corps faltered again.
“We’ve got to get this one thing ironed out,” the manager said after the loss. “I mean, we’re playing really well. I can’t speak enough about how Corbin is pitching, how all our position players are playing really well. Defense has been good, our baserunning has been good, we’ve got to iron out that bullpen. We’ve got to iron out the back end of the games. Can’t run [Sean] Doolittle out there for six outs, five outs every day. These guys understand that, and like I said, we just came off a good series [against the Philadelphia Phillies] and they pitched really well, we had the day off yesterday, they all said they felt good, they all said they were fresh, and just today it was just ... executing pitches just wasn’t there.”
The 1-0 fastball from Barraclough to Marte?
“He had the right intentions, he tried to go down and away to Marte, and he just left the ball over the plate,” Martinez said.
The 0-2 fastball to Moran from Miller that went out to right?
“Just a bad pitch,” Martinez said.
“I mean just got to execute a pitch right there, 0-2, just threw the ball, I mean, I just looked at it, the ball was right down the middle.”
And the mood in the clubhouse after another loss in the bullpen? How is everyone dealing with the relief corps hurting the team again?
“They understand what they need to do, but they do understand that we’re playing good baseball, we’re just, you know, like I said, we’ve got to execute pitches, the bullpen has to come in and execute pitches. When you get seven strong innings from your starter, we need six outs, so I know those guys have confidence in those guys that they can get it done, so we need to start getting it done.”