The Washington Nationals depart from their brief west coast trip with a familiar feeling. They split their four-game series with the San Diego Padres, which started in disappointing fashion with bullpen meltdowns but finished on a high with two solid wins.
Overall, given how good the Padres have looked so far this season, a split away from home isn’t the worst result by any means. It’s probably more the manner of the first two defeats that leave a slightly bitter taste in the mouth from the series.
Here are the main takeaways from the four games in sunny San Diego...
Home runs are cool
Nobody told the Nats that Petco Park is one of the least hitter-friendly parks in baseball. The lineup was teeing off on Padres pitching all weekend, sending several over the fence.
All in all, the Nats bats popped six home runs in the series, the joint-second-most they’ve hit in a series, with the most being the eight long balls that they hit against the Padres at Nats Park back in April.
Four of those long balls came courtesy of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning of the series finale. It’s only the ninth time in MLB history that a team had hit four home runs in four straight ABs and the Nats are the only team to do it twice. Crazy.
“If you know how that happens and how you can hit four in a row again, let me know, because we’ll write a book and we’ll be rich,” Adam Eaton, who hit the third of the four homers said after the game.
The home run binge just outlines the offensive turnaround of late. Since May 24th, the Nationals are seventh in the majors in runs scored and fourth in the National League.
There’s definitely still a bit of room for improvement on that front, but with every phase of the game improving with every passing game, it seems to be giving the Nats a slight glimmer of hope of getting back into the postseason hunt.
Fedde locking up rotation spot
One of the brighter spots during the Nationals recent success has been the emergence of Erick Fedde as a legitimate option in the rotation.
In his latest start, he delivered a quality start, going six frames, allowing three runs on five hits, walking none, and striking out five. That’s pretty good going for a fifth starter, keeping them in the game, giving them a chance to win, until the bullpen happened.
“If we can get that out of Fedde, we’re going to be in good shape,” manager Dave Martinez said after the game. “Every time he goes out there he’s getting more and more confident, he’s making pitches, and he pitched really well.”
Since joining the rotation when Aníbal Sánchez went to the Injured List, Fedde has posted an impressive 2.70 ERA in four starts across 20 innings. He’s also finally fully stretched out after some short outings to begin with, throwing 90 pitches against the Padres.
Slightly worrying, Fedde’s strikeout percentage is still pretty low at 15.5 percent while his walk percentage is over half of that at 8.3 percent. But the key to his success is that his HR/FB% has halved from 28.3 percent before this season, down to 11.1 percent in 2019.
With no update on Jeremy Hellickson since he was shut down from throwing just under two weeks ago, Fedde may have made a case to keep his rotation spot regardless of Hellickson’s health. He’ll look to continue his success on Thursday against Arizona.
Corbin missing his command
While Fedde’s stock continues to trend upward, Patrick Corbin’s is taking a slight dip. The left-hander had another rough outing as he continues to struggle a little lately to the tune of a 5.40 ERA in his last four starts.
The Padres knocked Corbin out of the game after five innings, scoring five runs on five hits, drawing a worrying five walks. Despite striking out six, he had trouble finding the zone, ending up with just 57 strikes in 101 pitches.
According to FanGraphs, Corbin threw just 24.8 percent of his pitches in the zone on Thursday, easily the lowest percentage of his season and way off his 35.9 percentage on the season so far. His fastball, in particular, was way off, but it seemed to be a mechanical issue.
“I talked to [Pitching Coach] Paul [Menhart], his mechanics are a little off right now,” Martinez said on Thursday. “It’s causing him to fly open a little bit, and I think he knows that.”
“We’ll get him straightened out, like I said, he’s a veteran guy that’s done this before, we’ll get some work in this week and get him back on track.”
It will be worth keeping an eye on any potential mechanical change Corbin makes in his next outing. Thankfully, his next start will be against the lighter-hitting White Sox, a perfect chance to rebound.
Costly lack of fundamentals
This definitely isn’t the first time fundamentals have come up in the ugly section of these recaps and the way things are going, it probably won’t be the last. It came back to bite them in a big way in Friday’s game.
With a one-run lead, the Nationals sent closer Sean Doolittle to the mound, hoping to seal a last-gasp win after a late rally. Though the Padres made good contact on good pitches from the lefty, the Nats gifted extra bases to the hosts, making a comeback that bit easier.
The first gaffe actually came in the previous inning where catcher Yan Gomes tried to advance from second to third on a sac fly with two outs. As his manager said after the game, “he’s got to be 1,000% sure he’s going to make it.” He didn’t make it. Third out.
Then another blunder came on Eric Hosmer’s triple. With Adam Eaton in pursuit, the ball took a big bounce off the wall, making it past him. But Victor Robles, who should’ve been backing up, was too close and the ball got past him too, allowing Hosmer to go to third.
Finally, after Josh Naylor singled home Hosmer as the tying run, the 250lb first baseman with just 27 career steals in his minor league career swiped second base without a play. Naylor then scored on the walk-off single by Austin Hedges. Script well and truly flipped.
Though neither of those will show up on the box score as an error, it’s been a long-running theme of the team’s season so far with the so called “little things” not being executed.
Fundamentally poor baseball won’t get the Nats anywhere this year, as the terrible start has proven. It can’t be easily be corrected midseason, with blame likely falling on the coaching staff, who evidently failed to emphasize the point enough during Spring Training.
Next up: The Nationals complete their season series against the Chicago White Sox this week with a two-game set in The Windy City. Aníbal Sánchez, who has been impressive lately, gets the ball in the opener, with Patrick Corbin starting the second game.