Even though the Washington Nationals wound up with a respectable 6-4 record on a huge homestand, it could’ve easily been much better. That was evident in this three-game set against the Atlanta Braves.
The Nats took the first game of the series with a solid all-around effort, highlighted by three huge scoreless innings from the bullpen. However, they seemed to let the other two games of the series get away, as both seemed winnable at times.
Here are the main takeaways from the three-game series...
Voth turns up the heat
Not too much was expected of right-hander Austin Voth when it was announced after Saturday’s game that he would start the series finale, looking like it would just be a one-off.
But he came out and left a positive impression on management, tossing six great innings, allowing just two runs on four hits, walking none and striking out seven. Though he didn’t get the run support, he certainly pitched well enough to win the game.
“He was good,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters after the game. “I know he works hard, he works really hard, but like I said, if he can continue to do that, he’s going to pitch here for a while.”
Perhaps the most notable takeaway from Voth’s start was his velocity. Throughout his minor league career and in his brief big league stint, the right-hander’s fastball has sat around 90mph, averaging 91.4mph in the majors last season.
But in this outing, his heater averaged 94mph and even got up to 96mph on multiple occasions. That velocity, combined with impressive late life, allowed him to generate 12 swinging strikes with his fastball, something that’s not easy to do against big league hitters.
On Monday morning, the Nationals announced they optioned Erick Fedde to Triple-A, indicating that Voth will at least get another turn in the rotation. If he can continue to pitch at a similar level to this outing, the Nats may have found a solid fifth starter.
Suero steps up
On the whole, the Nationals’ bullpen seemed to revert to its early-season form in this series with a pair of sub-par games for the beleaguered group. Despite this, the bullpen still got a pair of huge outings from Wander Suero, who stepped up in a big way.
On Friday, with Sean Doolittle unavailable, Suero was called on to protect a one-run lead on three days rest, hoping to convert his first career MLB save. It started bumpy as he allowed the first two hitters to reach before retiring the next three in order to secure the win.
“Because of the confidence he’s given me. Especially lately in big situations, despite my numbers not being where I’d like them to be, he keeps giving me the confidence,” Suero told Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports after the game.
“So I’m definitely excited and ready to be out there and help out any way I can.”
The right-hander seems to be one of Martinez’s most trusted options in high-leverage spots to try and bridge the gap to Doolittle. Though his 5.74 ERA seems high, he’s had stretches of effectiveness this season, including this current stretch with a 2.70 ERA since May 26th.
Suero’s emergence, along with fellow right-hander Tanner Rainey, who struggled a bit in this series, has helped settle down a bullpen that was all over the place to start the year. You can expect to see him in plenty more high-leverage spots moving forward.
MAT running out of chances
Michael A. Taylor came into the 2019 season hoping that a revamped shorter swing could help him raise his contact percentage and thrive in a reserve role. But as we move towards the end of July, his chances may be running out.
He drew the start in the first game of this series with lefty Dallas Keuchel on the mound while also relieving Victor Robles, who had to depart the second game with dehydration.
Unfortunately, he didn’t collect a single hit over the two games, going 0-for-7 with three strikeouts. He also played some uncharacteristically poor defense, making one error while also making two other off-line throws.
Taylor has now been overtaken by Gerardo Parra in the outfield pecking order, as his poor .211/.277/.276 slash line and 37.6 percent strikeout rate - which is second-highest in the NL - leaves his value incredibly limited.
With the return of Ryan Zimmerman appearing to be not far away, it could be the outfielder who makes way on the active roster. Taylor does have one minor league option remaining, so he could at least be sent to Fresno to get regular playing time in that scenario.
At this point though, it seems pretty clear that Taylor may not amount to much more than a glove-first center fielder. So now with Robles as the center fielder of the future and Parra as the clear best fourth-outfield option, Taylor may be running out of time with the team.
Curious case of Ross
It’s not entirely clear how the Nationals plan to use Joe Ross moving forward. The right-hander was recalled before Friday’s game, as it initially appeared he would start the series finale on Sunday while doubling as an emergency option out of the bullpen.
However, he ended up being called upon in relief in the top of the eighth on Saturday, hoping to hold a one-run lead, which hardly seemed like an emergency. It couldn't have gone much worse, as he surrendered four runs, putting the game out of reach for the Nats.
Ross had failed coming out of the bullpen earlier in the season, posting a 9.22 ERA in the majors entering Saturday, so was being stretched back out as a starter in Fresno.
That made the choice to call on him in such a high-leverage spot a strange one. Perhaps even more strange given both Tony Sipp and Matt Grace were both likely available.
“I really believe that we’ve really got to figure out what his role is going to be,” Martinez told reporters after the game. “Whether he’s going to start, whether he’s going to relieve and just leave him there and let him do his thing.”
It’s quite simple now, the Nationals need to choose whether they want Ross as a starter or reliever this season and stick to it. All this role-switching clearly isn’t helping him at all.
Rosenthal roller coaster ends
In a pretty sudden, if not entirely unexpected, move on Sunday morning, the Nationals finally bit the bullet and decided to release failed reclamation project, Trevor Rosenthal.
His release came after an outing on Saturday that was akin to his first few appearances with the team where hitting the strike zone became impossible, for whatever reason. Though it likely had to be done, it doesn’t mean it was an easy thing to do for the Nats.
“Trevor is an unbelievable person,” Martinez said following Rosenthal’s release. “Just at this point in time — he put the work in, we put the work in, we tried to get him right and just things didn’t work out, so it was time for us to move on.”
Rosenthal leaves D.C. with the fourth-highest ERA in team history since the franchise moved to Washington at 22.74, just behind Jeremy Guthrie (135.00), James Bourque (54.00) - who will almost certainly lower his ERA significantly in the future - and Antonio Osuna (42.43).
Mike Rizzo was playing with fire by signing Rosenthal, who was always going to be a high-risk, high-reward acquisition. The cards didn’t come up right on this one and it left the bullpen scrambling for stability all season long.
Given how Rosenthal looked in Spring Training, with both velocity and command seemingly back to pre-Tommy John form, it’s hard to begrudge the Nats too much for signing him. But perhaps where they were let down was putting all their eggs in the Rosenthal basket.
Hopefully, Rosenthal can get back to the dominant reliever he has been previously in his career. The Nats just couldn’t afford to keep him on the roster as it was holding them back.
Next up: Now, in the first of four series against teams on course to lose 100 games, the Nationals travel south to face the Miami Marlins. Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg are lined up for the Nats, who could really do with a big series to get back to .500.