Going into Wednesday’s series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff, as a group, had a combined, “0.88 ERA (5 ER/51.0 IP) with 47 strikeouts, 10 walks, and a .177 opponents’ batting average over the last six games,” as the Nats highlighted in their pregame notes. Nationals’ starters, the club added, “... in 11 games dating to June 4 ... [had] pitched to a 1.30 ERA (8 ER/55.1 IP) with 47 strikeouts, a .197 opponents’ batting average, and just three home runs allowed,” and, “... the 1.30 ERA during this stretch [was] the best in Major League Baseball.”
After Paolo Espino tossed six scoreless innings, MASN’s Mark Zuckerman noted that the team’s starters, “over their last 12 games,” owned, “a 1.19 ERA,” and added that they have done that with, “... only 2 of those games ... started by Scherzer (and he departed the second of them after 12 pitches).”
“It’s been awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier this week of the stellar pitching the club has received in recent weeks, with Scherzer limited and Stephen Strasburg, who has been on the IL since early this month, out of the rotation. What’s working?
“The one thing that I look at the most is the free bases,” Martinez said.
“I mean, we’re attacking hitters, we’re not giving up walks, and we’re putting the ball in play. Putting the ball in play fairly early in the count.
“We need to continue that, as you can see, we do that, our defense is playing well, we get quick outs, and these guys are going deeper into games.”
The fact that they’re getting the contributions they are from a rotation mix that’s featured the likes of Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Espino, and a spot start from Jefry Rodriguez, makes the run even more satisfying.
Martinez highlighted the contributions from Ross and Fedde.
“Thus far, the biggest thing that we got going for us right now is Joe and Fedde,” Martinez said. “They’re doing really well, and we got to keep those guys healthy. So, with that being said I know Scherzer is down right now, but he’ll be back, and hopefully Stras comes back — as soon as we can get him back he’ll come back, and I think our depth is good. The question is — I’m going to have a big decision to make when Stras does come back, of what we’re going to do with the guys that are pitching right now. If Fedde and Joe keep pitching the way they’re pitching, it’s going to be tough to do something with those guys. But we’ll see when that happens.”
Up in the front office, one man has been impressed with what the Nationals’ pitching staff has contributed in recent weeks.
“The entirety of our rotation and bullpen has been stellar,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning. “You have Max walk off in the first inning of the first game against the team with the best record in the National League and you’re looking at a recipe for disaster for the entire series because of that and our relievers came in and shut the door for 8 1⁄3 and then the rest of our starters took it from there and we split with a really good Giants team and we could have take three, and could have taken four in that series against the team with the best record in the National League.
“Can’t say enough about the rotation. Joe Ross has stepped up, Fedde, Patrick is starting to get things together, and Jonny Lester just gives you a professional outing each and every time, and the bullpen has been great. Gutsy performances by those guys, they’ve been used a lot and they just keep answering the bell and throwing up zeroes. That’s kind of how we’re trying to crawl ourselves out of the standings here, is to pitch great, get some timely hits and play good defense, and recently we’ve been doing that.”
On Wednesday, it was Espino, Tanner Rainey, Sam Clay, Kyle Finnegan (who gave up a run), and then Brad Hand, who completed a five-out save to lock down the win and a sweep of the three-game series with the Pirates.
The five pitchers issued one walk between them in a 3-1 win.
Is not walking batters ... contagious?
“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “It’s an ongoing thing for us with [Bullpen Coach] Henry [Blanco] and [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey preaching, and myself, about, ‘Walks, walks, walks.’
“‘When you come out of that bullpen, no free passes.’ We talk about it all the time.
“Now all of a sudden they’re talking about it and their job is to not walk anybody, and go out there and attack the strike zone and try to put the ball in play early with soft contact, and they’ve done a great job so far, and hopefully we continue to do that.”