It’s a baseball maxim to never give away an out, but giving away multiple outs in one inning is a real killer. Keenly aware of that is Washington Nationals’ reliever Kyle Finnegan, who was off to a fine start this season before a couple of fielding gaffes by rookie second baseman Luis García in Monday night’s 6-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Down 2-0 in the sixth, Finnegan relieved Patrick Corbin having given up only two runs in 13 innings, with an 0.92 WHIP. But that would all blow up in a sequence of a few pitches when the Nationals lost more than an opportunity to keep the Phillies off the scoreboard.
Instead, one charged error and an even more damaging mistake not documented in the box score opened the floodgates.
Didi Gregorius led off the Philadelphia sixth with a base hit. García’s charged error came two pitches later when pinch-hitter Jay Bruce hit a ground shot that ate García up as he charged it from deep second. By the time he found the high hop off the infield lip, Bruce was safe at first on a fielder’s choice, and Gregorius was safe at second on García’s third fielding error of 2020.
“It’s part of the game, you know, it’s things that happen through the course of the game,” García said afterward. “I felt like I attacked it probably a little too aggressively.
Manager Davey Martinez believes it should have had a double play.
“I felt bad for Finnegan. He gets the ground ball. We don’t turn the double play right there, it could have been a different ballgame,” he said.
“[García] tried to throw the ball before he caught it,” Martinez added. “He’s just got to set his feet and just get an out. Get one out first, don’t try to be too quick.
“To me that’s just a kid that’s 20 years old that’s trying to do just a little too much. He needs to slow the game down, but he’ll learn, he’s going to learn that, he’s been good, today was just one of those frustrating [turn of events] where Finnegan got the ground ball for a double play and we couldn’t turn it.”
The play that was not ruled an error was even more costly. Rookie third baseman Alec Bohm lined a shot to right-center that rolled to the scoreboard. But Gregorius tripped rounding third with Bruce on his heels as center fielder Michael A. Taylor made a clean pickup and throw to García, the cutoff man. But García did not make a clean catch and relay, and his hurried throw home was short and off target. It skipped up the third base line where Yan Gomes had to dig it out of the dirt. Gregorius righted himself and headed for home with the Phillies’ third run while Gomes flailed at a tag.
With three potential outs already given away on two successive plays, there was still nobody out and a man on third when Roman Quinn weakly grounded into what could have been the third out.
Instead, Andrew McCutchen made the Nats pay dearly for the missed play at the plate, driving a 3-1 sinker from Finnegan high into the lower deck of fan cutouts. The three-run homer made it 6-0 and destroyed realistic hopes of a Nats’ comeback, as well as a fairly impressive pitching line for Finnegan, a career minor leaguer who had made the most of his first taste of the big leagues.
His line after the game: 13 1⁄3 innings pitched, ten hits, six runs, five earned, with 17 strikeouts.
His ERA ballooned from 1.38 to 3.38 and his WHIP jumped from 0.92 to 1.28.
“Finn has been pitching well, he’s been pitching well,” said Martinez. “I thought he did his job by getting that ground ball. We need to make that play.”
For García, it was a learning experience.
“All I can do is just what I try to do is focus, concentrate a little bit more, get my reps, feel more comfortable and not let a lot of thoughts go through my head, not think too much out there, that’s how I kind of slow myself down. All I can do is keep working, and just not let too many things run through my head, and overthink about a lot of stuff out there,” he said.
Before the game got out of hand, Corbin and Nola had a good pitchers’ duel going, Corbin held his own for four innings allowing five hits, two earned runs, three walks, and two strikeouts, but he was lucky to escape the fifth with only two runs on the board.
After he allowed a solo homer to Bohm and and RBI single by J.T. Realmuto, Corbin’s defense got him out of the inning when Turner, shifted behind second, ranged to his right and made a diving stop of Jean Segura’s sharp grounder, then fired from one knee to García at second for the third-out force on Realmuto.
Martinez said Corbin was tiring after 93 pitches, so he decided to make a move.
“He said he was getting a little fatigued, but he kept us in the ballgame,” said the manager. “That’s all you can ask of these guys, and we turned it over to the bullpen.”
Nola was clearly sharper and stronger, allowing only two hits and only one runner as far as second base in his eight shutout innings. He fanned nine Nationals and walked two.
Most importantly, Nola held Trea Turner and Juan Soto, the Nationals’ two hottest hitters, to a combined 0-for-6, striking out each once. Turner’s 16-game hitting streak came to an end, but he did draw a walk to move his on-base streak to 23 games.
“He got two of our hottest hitters out, and they’ve been swinging the bats really well, so when I’m watching the game and I see him locating his changeups and breaking balls, and throwing his fastballs where he wants, he was good,” said Martinez.
The Nats finally moved runners to second and third in the ninth on a one-out groundout by Eric Thames, but Hector Neris got Adam Eaton to ground out to third, ending the team’s fourth consecutive loss and second shutout of the season.
The Nats’ prospects for the postseason are fading, now firmly in last place in the National League East, 2 games behind the fourth-place New York Mets and 7 1⁄2 behind first-place Atlanta.