In their pregame notes for last night’s game, the Washington Nationals highlighted a recent jump in the club’s production with runners in scoring position.
“Over the last 11 games,” the Nationals wrote, “Washington’s lineup is hitting .298 (34-for-114) with runners in scoring position ... which has improved Washington’s overall average with RISP from .208 on May 13 to .236 entering play on Tuesday.”
In last night’s game, the Nationals, who lost 2-1 to the Cincinnati Reds, didn’t put a runner in scoring position. At all. The entire game.
As a team, they managed just three hits off Reds’ righty Tyler Mahle in 5 1⁄3 IP by the starter, and just one hit off Cincinnati’s bullpen, a solo shot by Josh Bell off lefty Amir Garrett in the bottom of the ninth, which accounted for the only run the club scored.
“[Mahle] threw the ball well, he mixed his pitches up, kept our hitters off-balance,” manager Davey Martinez said after the loss.
“We got pitches to hit, we just fouled a lot of balls off, but I thought he pitched really well, like I said, he mixed in a lot of splits, a lot of sliders, elevated his fastball at times, so, they threw some guys at us that were pretty good today.
“That [Tejay] Antone kid (2 2⁄3 hitless in relief) came in and threw the ball good as well. So, hey, we just got to come back tomorrow and go 1-0 tomorrow.”
The Nationals scored 22 runs in their three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, coming from behind to win each of the last two in a three-game sweep, but then Reds’ pitching shut them down, so how much is the pitching they face and how much is an actual improvement in the club’s approach with runners in scoring position?
“We’ve actually been hitting the ball pretty good as of late,” Martinez said, “and then you run into a guy — like I said, like this, that kept us off-balance all night, and like I said, we missed some pitches that we probably should have hit. But he did well, the guy made his pitches, we couldn’t get nothing going. So, we just got to come back tomorrow and do it again and hopefully get off early and score first.”
“I think [Mahle] has a good fastball, but I think he just threw a lot of offspeed tonight, kept us off balance,” Trea Turner said, echoing his manager’s assessment of what the Reds’ did well, pitching-wise, after an 0 for 4 night at the plate.
“A lot of offspeed in hitter’s counts, a lot of 2-0, 3-1 offspeed,” he explained, “I think we just had a hard time of getting good pitches in the zone. He kept them down for the most part, so just pitched backwards and made good pitches.”
Turner too weighed in on whether the tough night was about the Nationals’ offensive deficiencies this season or the Reds’ solid pitching performance.
“I think if the guy makes good pitches it doesn’t matter what he has,” Turner said, “it’s going to be tough to hit.
“At least for me I didn’t feel like I got too many pitches to hit in the middle of the plate, and when I did I missed them.
“So, if you’re not getting a lot of mistakes in the middle of the plate, it’s going to be hard to hit, and I don’t care who’s on the mound or what’s his name, or whatever it may be, and they threw out some of their best bullpen arms and like I said, they pitched well and we pitched well too, so it was just a matter of them hitting one more homer than us.”
Max Scherzer gave up two solo home runs, Garrett gave up one. That was it for the scoring in the first game of the three-game series in D.C.
Does the pressure build, and grips tighten when hitters weren’t getting on and it’s a tight game deep into the action?
“Guys definitely want to try to make something happen and get on base for the next guy,” Martinez said.
“But like I said, it’s about just going out there and relaxing and just try to do your part.
“[Mahle] was— like I said, he was pretty good. I watched him, he mixed balls in and out, his slider was good, his split was fairly good today, so he threw the ball well.”
Tonight, the Nationals’ offense will try to bounce back against Reds’ righty Jeff Hoffman.