What’s to make of a game like the Nationals’ 11-0 loss to the Orioles on Friday — in a season like 2020?
Maybe, to paraphrase Pedro Martinez, the Nats have to tip their caps and call the Orioles their daddy — or maybe they just throw up their hands and try again tomorrow.
The Nats’ bullpen featured some young pitchers with promising starts to the season, while the Orioles entered the game having been shut out twice in their past four. So when Anibal Sanchez continued his slow start by giving the Orioles five runs on ten hits and three walks in five innings, some of the Nats’ young guns had the opportunity to limit the damage, but it didn’t happen.
Ryne Harper, traded from Minnesota in January, had not allowed an earned run in 5 1⁄3 innings and five appearances this season. But that didn’t last long after he came into the game with one on and one out and the Orioles already ahead 4-0 in the top of the sixth.
Harper fell behind José Iglesias and surrendered a single — the Oriole shortstop’s fourth hit of the game. Then Renato Núñez ruined the perfect ERA with a towering shot into the visiting bullpen to blow the game open. It didn’t end there. Back-to-back doubles by Dwight Smith, Jr. and Pedro Severino brought in another run before Harper found his footing and struck out two to retire the side. His ERA had ballooned to a pedestrian 4.50, but his strikeout total increased to eight over six innings of work.
Manager Davey Martinez did not sound overly concerned postgame.
“These guys, you’ve got a bunch of young hitters that go up there and just swing the bats. And tonight was one of those nights where it didn’t matter where you threw the ball it seems like they were hitting it. So, let’s just come back tomorrow and regroup and do it again,” he said.
Next up was Wander Suero, whose first appearance of the season was a scoreless inning Wednesday against the Mets. His second did not go nearly as well.
Handed a fresh inning in the seventh, Suero was knocked around for three hits and a walk, with a passed ball by Kurt Suzuki, resulting in three more Baltimore runs.
For Suero, Martinez said, it’s a matter of getting him work to build his velocity and stamina after missing time in Spring Training 2.0 and more than the first week of the season.
“Today, he was 91-92 tops, we’ve just got to get him out there,” Martinez said.
“When you miss that much time you’ve just got to build his strength back up and get out there and face as many hitters as possible.”
Kyle Finnegan and Sam Freeman finally stopped the rain of Baltimore hits, with Finnegan striking out three in his scoreless ninth inning.
The Nats’ bullpen had not allowed an inherited runner to score all season coming into the game, but no matter how long or short the season, a streak like that is going to end. That it came against a Baltimore team that entered the game struggling does not matter much.
Early innings from the bullpen were a glaring weakness in the team’s 19-31 start last season, so it’s refreshing to see so many young arms in starting the season so well. But trends are going to be hard to establish in a year like this one — essentially a glorified exhibition season, not with unexpected postponements due to positive COVID tests, playing road games in their home ballpark, and not knowing what to expect from opponents who are facing the same difficulties.
Under circumstances like that, you can essentially write off games like this one, which are bound to happen sometime. The newer arms in the bullpen are still responsible for much of the success the 4-6 team has seen so far this season. They have shown the stuff to keep opposing hitters off balance behind the Nats’ imposing starting rotation.
Games like this will happen — maybe even more often in such an unpredictable season — but fans should take the long view and look at how the bullpen has already been replenished from last season with arms that can help the team this season and beyond.