Tanner Rainey was limited to just three outings in Spring Training, as he dealt with a slight strain of a muscle around his collar bone, which followed after his 2020 campaign ended with a right forearm strain in mid-September.
Rainey, 28, was limited in Grapefruit League action, but deemed ready for the start of the season, and he made his 2021 debut in the second of two the Nationals played in D.C. on Wednesday afternoon.
After recording two quick outs on fly balls to center and right, respectively, the righty gave up a single to left by Dansby Swanson on an 0-1 slider up, and over the middle of the plate.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey visited the pitcher on the mound before a matchup with pinch hitter Pablo Sandoval, and the reliever went to full count with the veteran slugger but left one up in the zone that Sandoval crushed, sending a two-run shot to center that was all it took for the Atlanta Braves to claim a 2-0 win.
Rainey’s fastball velocity (95.0 MPH) was off a tick from last season’s average (96.6), as was his slider (86.1, down from 87.1), but the issue on the pitch to Sandoval was simple as Rainey saw it.
“For most of the at bat I was trying to elevate, and then get into that 3-2 count ... and I missed. He didn’t,” Rainey told reporters in a post game Zoom call.
“I think you saw a few pitches come out at 97, 96, so it will get there,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the nightcap of the doubleheader in D.C. on Wednesday.
“I got all the faith in the world — 3-2, he wanted to throw a strike. He wanted to get the ball up and out over the plate, and up to Sandoval, and pretty much went middle-middle, but I like — he’s going to attack the strike zone. He got two quick outs.
“He gave up an end of the bat hit and then the home run. So, he’s going to be fine, we just got to get him out there.”
Though he was limited this spring, Rainey said he feels good now and the home run he gave up was just a matter of execution, not a sign of any bigger issue.
“Honestly, physically I feel good. Feel normal. Everything feels like it’s back in sync, working in the right direction.
“It’s still, obviously, not where I would like it to be, but it’s definitely what I’ve got, so I’ve got to work with it, and compete with it.”
What was the message from Hickey during the mound visit before Sandoval’s home run?
“He talked about the uses of the fastball, going up in the zone, and mixing in his slider,” his manager explained.
“Like I said, Pablo is a good hitter, and he’s a good fastball hitter, he just didn’t quite get the ball up enough.”
“I missed my spot and he didn’t miss his swing,” Rainey reiterated. “So...”