Bullpen Usage/Hand & Huddy:
Both Brad Hand and Daniel Hudson appeared in four of the last five games before the off day for the Washington Nationals yesterday, and both threw in all three of the games this past weekend in the nation’s capital.
Davey Martinez talked after the series finale with the Orioles on Sunday about the balance of trying to win games while looking towards the future when it comes to bullpen usage.
The basis of the discussion was his decision to use Hudson and Hand in all three games against Baltimore.
“I talked to them and they both were — we had to get them up and get them in, that’s what we had to do today, they both were okay with that being that we had a day off tomorrow,” Martinez explained.
“Good possibility that one of them will come up, and the first game of the Cincinnati series and probably need another day, but we’ll see how they feel when they come back.
“It was a big win for them. I’m glad they were available, they both got to pitch and did great.”
“We’re used to it in that position,” Hand said of the role of late-inning arms.
“Obviously it’s the first time this year that I’ve gone three in a row, but with an off day tomorrow I felt good today, so it’s nice to come in there and get the job done tonight.”
And how does Martinez try to balance the need to win games with the need to keep his relievers healthy for future appearances?
“It’s huge,” he said, “because you want to keep these guys right for the whole season, and keep them healthy, but when you’ve got a chance to win a game, it’s about really having these conversations and seeing where they’re really at. If any one of them had told me that they definitely needed a day then we would have had to do something else because those guys always want the ball.
“When they come up to me and say they’re good, they just want to get up and get in then I understand that.”
Hand was asked, after his third straight appearance, if he felt like he’d just thrown for a third straight day.
“I felt good today,” he said, “... today was like I hadn’t pitched, just normal. It was like I was rested, so with the day off tomorrow, it’s coming at a good time for the first three in a row I think for me and Huddy both.
“Good to get the series sweep there and everybody recover and back at it again.”
Continuing the Bullpen Talk:
If you do a “command+f” search for the word “down” in THIS STORY on Brad Hand’s recent struggles (before a couple solid outings this weekend), you’ll notice Davey Martinez talking often about the need for the left-hander to get the ball down in the zone to be successful, but in the top of the ninth on Sunday, with the Nationals up 6-5 a runner on second, and two out, Martinez made the decision to put red-hot Trey Mancini (who was 15 for his last 36, .417 AVG coming into the at bat) on with an intentional walk and attack Anthony Santander, who was 5 for 12 over the 3-game series, up high in the zone.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey came out to give Hand a quick scouting report before the at bat.
“We know Santander right-handed you have to get the ball up,” Martinez explained. “He’s a low-ball hitter right-handed, that’s why I sent Hickey out to talk to [Hand] about elevating on that particular guy. Sometimes it’s an anomaly and we see those things, and he did a great job getting the ball up, when you’re asking a sinkerball pitcher to get the ball up it’s tough.”
Hand managed, throwing all four four-seamers up in the zone, with three straight swinging strikes after the first was a ball.
The top four pitches in the image below (via Baseball Savant) are the fourth pitches from Hand to Santander.
“He threw his four-seamer and he threw the ball up,” Martinez said, “... and that’s a huge out right there.”
“Yeah, I mean I was trying to get it up there,” Hand said. “[Santander will] chase that one above the zone. So it was good to execute some pitches right there and get out of that.”
“Over the course of his career he’s been predominantly a four-seam, kind of high fastball pitcher,” Alex Avila said after starting the game and catching Hand in the ninth on Sunday.
“It allows the slider to come off the same tunnel, off his fastball, which, that is what makes that effective.
“The key with him is throwing it for strikes,” Avila continued, “I think at times when he’s had some rough innings, it’s when he’s had a hard time finding the strike zone with either the fastball or the slider. But when he’s on, typically he’s really good with the four-seam fastball on that side of the plate and kind of can put it at the top of the zone and also at the bottom of the zone when he wants to.
“At least that’s what I know of him, having faced him and seen him pitch for the last few years, and also catching him.
“That’s his bread and butter and he’s got to be able to do that and throw strikes with it as well.
“Not just gets swings and misses up there or balls, but be able to throw strikes up there, and it just makes everything else better off of that.”
Familiarity Breeds ... Comfortability?:
Speaking of Alex Avila, there was plenty of talk when he signed with the Nationals, about the history he had with some of the pitchers on the club’s staff, having worked with Max Scherzer 107 times when they were both in Detroit, and Jon Lester in Chicago, in just two starts, and Patrick Corbin in Arizona, 14 times in 2018. So now that he’s a few months into the 2021 season, has the history with those pitchers actually been a benefit?
“It really helps,” Avila said, after catching Patrick Corbin for the first time since 2018 in the Nationals’ win in the series finale with the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
“When I catch new guys, guys I haven’t seen before, it usually doesn’t take me too long at least to get a little familiar with them as far as what their pitches do, how it moves, and then also how they have to use their repertoire in order to set up and get hitters out. It’s all the other stuff: What makes the guy tick? How I can motivate him on days where he doesn’t have his best stuff? Things like that take a little more time because you have to build that relationship, you’re building a friendship. Having played with a few of these guys already, that part is already out of it, so I can kind of focus on other things.
“But it was nice catching Pat again, hadn’t caught him this year in the season, but it was nice.