Second-guessing your manager is as much a part of the so-called national pastime as over-priced beer, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks, especially when decisions the skipper makes don’t work out, and especially when the decisions end up costing your team a game like second-year manager Davey Martinez’s decision to pull Jeremy Hellickson with one out in the sixth did tonight, though how much of the blame is on Martinez for this one is debatable.
Left-handed reliever Dan Jennings took over for Hellickson and walked Bryce Harper, the left-hander he was brought on to face, then gave up a three-run home run by right-hand hitting Rhys Hoskins on a 1-1 slider, which ended up winning the series opener in Citizens Bank Park for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Washington’s skipper got 5 1⁄3 innings out of Hellickson, who’d given up just four hits and one earned run to that point, striking out nine of the 20 batters he faced, but the one-out single Jean Segura hit off the right-handed starter in the sixth led the Nationals’ manager, who has routinely pulled Hellickson before the third time through the order in their year-plus together in D.C., to go to the bullpen for Jennings.
“I liked Jennings all the way through [Nick] Williams,” Martinez said after the 4-2 loss, explaining that he liked the matchups with Jennings versus Harper, Hoskins, catcher J.T. Realmuto, and Williams.
“We had reverse splits on Hoskins and on Realmuto, and Jennings has been pitching well, he just is supposed to get the slider in and he left it out over the plate, but the walk to Harper was kind of unusual. The guy throws strikes and he walked Harper, and we thought still the matchup was good right there.”
Harper took a five-pitch walk that put two on with one out in front of Hoskins, who brought a .194/.376/.392 career line vs lefties, and a .240/.424/.440 line vs left-handers in 2019 to the plate.
Martinez said the Nats planned before the game for Jennings to face Hoskins because of his struggles facing sliders.— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) May 4, 2019
Per @statcast Hoskins had been 0-for-17 with 9 K’s in his career against sliders from LHP.
Martinez apparently was looking at the same data.
“With the slider, he has .000 SLG on left-handed sliders,” the manager said, “and Jennings has a really good slider, and that’s the matchup, and Realmuto the same, we liked that matchup.”
Of course, Hoskins crushed the 1-1 slider he got, taking it from low in the zone and over the middle of the plate out to left field for a three-run home run that turned a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit for the Nationals.
“I think it was a 2-1 pitch,” Jennings said when asked about the slider to Hoskins after the game, though it was actually a 1-1 pitch.
A reporter had asked if he was trying to throw it to the Philly slugger’s back foot.
“You can’t really go back foot cause you don’t want to go 3-1 in that situation,” he said, again misremembering the count, “but I either got to be in or out, I can’t be over the plate. It was down, but it wasn’t in, it wasn’t out, it was just kind of over the plate.”
Martinez said he was confident in the decision to leave Jennings in to face Hoskins, even though it didn’t work out in the end.
“We talked about it, and I knew going into the game,” he said, reiterating that Hoskins had struggled against sliders from lefties. “I even wrote it down on paper, and we’ve done it before, with [lefty Matt] Grace, and Grace was successful, so with Jennings pitching the way he’s been pitching I thought that was a great matchup.
“The big thing was he walked Harp, but I still felt really comfortable with Jennings in there.”
“Liked how I started Harper,” Jennings explained.
“Coming in thinking he’s going to be aggressive, runner on, big situation. The first two pitches I was pleased with, cause like I said, I think he’s going to be aggressive in that situation.
“Tip my hat to him, he was patient, and then once I go 2-0, I thought I made a pitch that was close, but then after that, got to find a way to climb back in the count and I didn’t. And that’s the guy I’ve got to get right there, and then Hoskins, it was just fell behind again, can’t do that in this game.”
Jennings, who signed with the Nationals on April 15th, and made his 2019 debut on April 30th, said he was happy with the confidence Martinez showed in leaving him in to face a right-handed batter.
“Obviously I appreciate the confidence, and that’s on me,” he said. “I’ve got to get the job done. Looking for a ground ball right there, and you’re always going to second-guess if it doesn’t go your way. Maybe one too many sliders when I’m really trying to get a grounder right there anyway, so you get them out you don’t really second-guess anything, maybe he hits a pop fly right there and I don’t second-guess the pitch at all, but naturally, it doesn’t go your way you start second-guessing pitches a little bit and that’s really what I’m there to do, is try to get a ground ball and try to turn two.”
And Hellickson’s thoughts on getting pulled when he was?
“There’s going to be games where that’s probably the right move,” he said, “... but the way I was going today I think that was my inning. I thought I should have got a chance to get out of there.”