Tanner Rainey, 28, talked after he gave up a grand slam by Atlanta starter Huascar Ynoa in Washington’s May 4th loss in the nation’s capital, about his stuff slowly getting back up to what it was in 2019-20, when he established himself as a late-inning option and started to look like he could be a potential future closer.
“As far as the stuff, I feel like it’s pretty close to normal,” Rainey said. “The velo might not be quite what it was last year, but it feels like it’s getting better each time.”
That appearance was, however, the fourth in his first ten this season in which he gave up multiple runs, and the right-hander, who dealt with forearm tightness late in 2020 and a muscle strain near his collar bone this spring, has had to build back up after time off the mound.
Overall, Rainey said, the first month-plus of 2021 was, “somewhat disappointing.”
“Made some pitches that could have been executed a lot better that it seems like every time I’ve missed there, I’ve had to pay for it.”
On Friday night, in the series opener in Yankee Stadium, Rainey came on in the bottom of the eighth, after a six-run top of the inning blew things up and put the Nationals ahead, 9-3, and he walked the first batter he faced, putting a runner on in front of the top of the Yankees’ lineup. He proceeded to strike out three in a row, however, setting DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge down to get out of the inning without any damage.
Rainey, who’s averaged 95.2 MPH with his fastball, averaged 95.8 and got up to 97.4 MPH in the 20-pitch, 12-strike appearance.
The Nationals led 9-3 when he came in, but manager Davey Martinez wanted to get Rainey a little work.
“We wanted to get him in there,” Martinez explained. “[Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey and him did a bullpen session the other day, worked out some things, and we just wanted to get him some work in, and he looked good today. The ball was coming out.
“He was at 96 [with his fastball] but his slider was really good. So, it was a good outing for him.”
Rainey got LeMahieu looking with a 96.5 MPH fastball, then got Stanton and Judge with 0-2 and 2-2 sliders, respectively.
Opposing hitters had a .188 AVG on his slider this season after that appearance.
“He was a little shorter with his delivery, and he was able to get the ball down. He had good depth on his slider,” Martinez said.
“When he does that, that slider is nasty. He threw some good ones today, so hopefully this will resonate with him and he’ll start doing it on a consistent basis.”
Harris, 36, who has dealt with inflammation in his right hand which kept him out of action until earlier this week, got the call in the ninth, with the Nationals up 11-3, and the second time out this season, he gave up a hit, walk, and run in a 17-pitch frame in which he threw cutters for all but one of his pitches.
He threw 76.5% cutters last season, and is up to 85% overall this season, but Friday night it was 94%.
“He wanted to throw his cutter. His curveball, he threw one curveball, but he’s working on his cutter, getting the ball where he wanted to throw it,” Martinez said.“I thought he threw the ball well yesterday.”
An appearance with a big lead is one thing, but, Martinez said, in a tighter game the pitch mix might be different. This time he was working on his cutter in a game situation.
“We wanted to get him in there and get some work. Same thing with Rainey. We wanted him to get some work in.”
“These are two guys,” Martinez told reporters on Thursday. “I’ve said all along, they’re going to pitch big innings for us, high-leverage innings for us, so we just want to continue to get them work and get them going.”
The skipper turned to Rainey again in the eleventh inning on Saturday afternoon, with the score tied at three, and the righty walked the first two batters he faced, Stanton and Judge.
With a five-man infield behind him, Rainey got the ground ball he was looking for with a 1-2 slider to Gleyber Torres, but the weak roller was just weak enough that Rainey rushed to it and bobbled the ball allowing the winning run to score.
“I mean, the big key there is obviously get the first guy,” Rainey said of his approach with a runner on second to start extra innings, “put yourself ahead with one out and then hope for weak contact or strikeouts to try to get to two, that way the fly ball is not a sac fly, and you can kind of escape the jam.
“But when you walk two guys and you put them on third, then you put yourself in a shitty situation.”