Kyle Finnegan was in the zone, the strike zone, like never before on Wednesday night, firing a badly needed shutdown inning in the Washington Nationals’ 5-3 loss to Atlanta.
Finnegan fired a sixth inning of three strikeouts on nine pitches, for the first immaculate inning of his career to key another brilliant bullpen performance in the comeback bid.
“I’m amazed that I was able to throw nine strikes in a row like in general,” Finnegan deadpanned afterward, before admitting, “I think tonight was my best stuff that I’ve had all year.
“‘It still doesn’t feel real now that it happened,” Finnegan continued. “We weren’t able to get the win today, but it’s special moment for me in my career, that’s for sure.”
The immaculate performance came in relief of Erick Fedde, who was belted for five runs in the first four innings before Yan Gomes got the Nats on the scoreboard with a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth.
Down 5-1 in their bid to avoid the first consecutive losses of the month the Nationals needed the bullpen to hold the Atlanta offense in check.
Fedde had enough left to keep the visitors off the board on one hit in the fifth.
Finnegan, the Nats’ most heavily used reliever with 12 2⁄3 innings pitched in 13 appearances, was the first out of the bullpen.
“He constantly wants to pitch. He never tells me he can’t pitch,” manager Davey Martinez said after the game. “There’s days where I have to tell him, ‘You’re not pitching today.’”
First up was Austin Riley, who went down on two sinkers, then a slider.
Next up was Dansby Swanson, who went down on a sinker-splitter-sinker sequence.
Then William Contreras was out on three straight sinkers.
And that was it.
Finnegan got the significance of what was happening after the second strikeout.
“I got the first guy on three pitches, and next thing you know two guys on six,” he said.
By the time he’d gotten one strike on Contreras, he was going for the glory.
“I was just telling myself, at least give it a chance. Make sure the next two are in the zone,” he said.
Manager Davey Martinez admitted being caught up in the suspense.
“After he got seven strikes, I was sitting next to — actually our trainer, and I said, ‘Pretty cool if he gets out of here in nine pitches. But sorry if I just jinxed it,’” Martinez joked afterward.
“But he did, I mean, it’s awesome.”
Not everyone on the field was caught up in the moment, though.
“I knew he dominated and struck out the side, but I didn’t realize it was an immaculate inning until the scoreboard announced it,” Nationals’ shortstop Trea Turner said.
“That was big because it gave us a chance to kind of come back there later in the game.”
Sam Clay and Paulo Espino each turned in a scoreless inning of relief, while Trea Turner added a two-run homer to make it a 5-3 game going into the ninth.
Finnegan has allowed just five earned runs all season and has tossed 3 2⁄3 straight scoreless innings.
“He’s definitely gained a lot of confidence. He knows what he needs to do,” said manager Davey Martinez. “He attacks the strike zone as you can see, he’s not afraid to throw the ball over the plate, which is awesome coming out of the bullpen, and he always wants the ball.
“He’s one of those guys where I have all the faith in the world when he comes in to get outs for us and once again you saw what he did tonight.”
The Nationals’ bullpen has allowed 61 hits all season, second-fewest in all of baseball and is on a run of eight straight scoreless innings.
“What can I say about these guys, too,” said Martinez. “They come out of the bullpen, they have been throwing the ball well. Sam Clay threw the ball well, and Espino threw the ball really well for us and kept us in the ballgame. That’s really good to see, it’s very encouraging for us.
“If the starters keep us in the ballgame, our bullpen is doing really well.”
Finnegan already has a career highlight in only his second year in the big leagues.
“I think for relievers there are only so many things you can do records-wise,” he said
“And stuff like that, and an immaculate inning, in a one-inning sample-size, it doesn’t get any better than that, so to be able to have one of those is awesome.”