Even though the Washington Nationals are still working through plenty of early-season issues, they were able to rise above .500 again this week, taking two of their three games against the San Francisco Giants.
It was the first of three-straight series against teams currently under .500 which they need to capitalize on. In this one, despite some hiccups, they got the job done.
It’s that time again where we take a look at the main takeaways from the Nats’ latest series, dividing them up into the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Corbin continues to pay back his contract
It’s still very early days for Patrick Corbin with the Nationals, but so far, he looks every bit the pitcher the team was hoping for. His performance on Thursday afternoon was just another indicator of that.
Against the Giants, a team the lefty has dominated in recent seasons, he delivered 7.2 innings of two-hit ball, allowing just the one run while striking out nine. Thankfully, the bullpen was able to lock it down and secure Corbin an overdue first win as a National.
His fastball command was near-perfect all day long, even if he got a little help from the umpire behind the plate at times. And with his heater on form, his slider played up big time, generating eight swings and misses with that pitch during the start.
There’s a long way to go on his six-year $140 million deal, but Corbin has certainly kept up the positive tendencies that allowed him to break out last season.
Rosenthal takes a huge step in the right direction
Trevor Rosenthal and his inability to record an out to start his tenure with the Nats was the most painful storyline to watch to begin the season. Mercifully, it finally looks as though he’s righting the ship after a positive outing during the second game of the series.
He started out the appearance as shaky as before by hitting Brandon Belt and then walking Brandon Crawford. But after that, he was virtually lights out and for the first time this season, he appeared to be in control of his pitches.
Even though Rosenthal conceded a run, he was able to record two strikeouts in the inning, blazing fastballs right by hitters that they had no chance of keeping up with.
After the game, Dave Martinez and Mike Rizzo both acknowledged the step forward he took on Tuesday. If can can continue to improve and get back towards the dominant closer he used to be with the St. Louis Cardinals, it would be a huge boost to the ailing bullpen.
Martinez willing to shake up the lineup
This may not be something that comes to mind at first when people look back on this series, but it was definitely noteworthy. After plodding through the early portion of the season with an incredibly similar lineup, Dave Martinez finally shifted things around.
On Wednesday, he bumped Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto up to the second and third spots in the order respectively. Brian Dozier had been the primary two-hole hitter after Trea Turner went down hurt, but with his current poor form, it made sense to move him down.
Dozier may also be moving into more of a part-time role too with Howie Kendrick tearing the cover off the ball. It could even come to the point where he is starting more than Dozier for the foreseeable future, though Kendrick’s starts still need to be moderated to avoid injury.
We also got to see Victor Robles move up to the leadoff spot temporarily, with Adam Eaton getting a day off on Thursday. However, that particular switch appears to be a one-off.
It was about time that Martinez started to experiment with his batting order a bit to get the most out of the offense. The changes should now make the top of the order a bit more of an ordeal for the opposition.
Strasburg bitten by the long-ball
It’s been an incredibly hot-and-cold start to 2019 for Stephen Strasburg. He had a dominant outing against the New York Mets a two starts ago, but that was sandwiched by two outings where he gave up a combined 10 runs over 10 innings with six walks and 11 strikeouts.
His outing on Tuesday was a microcosm of his early-season form. Early on in the game, he looked almost unhittable allowing just two baserunners through the first four innings. But then he unraveled in the fifth, surrendering homers to Evan Longoria and Steven Duggar.
And in the following inning, Brandon Belt also went deep off of Strasburg to add insult to injury.
While Strasburg’s fly ball percentage is in line with his career number, his HR/FB% almost double his career percentage, meaning there’s correction on the way. But it does show that without his old overpowering velocity, he’ll have to be a little more careful moving forward.
Austen Williams latest beaten-up reliever
At one point, the Nationals thought they were going to cruise to a win in the second game of this series. But then, Austen Williams continued his poor run at the big league level late in the game, forcing Sean Doolittle into action to save the day.
After recording an out to finish off the eighth inning, Williams came back out for the ninth with his team up 9-2. But a barrage of hard contact followed, with four hits and two going over the fence. He left with just a 9-6 lead and fans biting their fingernails.
Williams was called up after the injury to Justin Miller, but has now allowed six runs in two appearances while recording just one out. The right-hander was also fairly ineffective in his his big league stint last season, putting up a 5.59 ERA in 9.2 innings.
With his lackluster time in the majors, Williams may head back to Fresno soon to try and get him back to the dominant pitcher we saw in Spring Training and in the minor leagues last year.
It’s unfortunate that he likely can’t stay with the team and work through his issues at the highest level. But with the rest of the bullpen struggling, they can’t afford to carry much dead weight, especially when Williams still has minor league options remaining, unlike others.
Next up: The Nationals now head down to Florida to take on the Miami Marlins for the first time this season. Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg are set to take the ball for the Nats against Caleb Smith, Jose Urena, and Trevor Richards for the Fish.