Pitching, Pitching, Pitching:
Going into the first of two with the New York Mets yesterday, the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff, the club mentioned in their pregame notes, had “a 0.78 ERA (6 ER/69.0 IP) with 58 strikeouts, 15 walks, and a .176 opponents’ batting average [in] the [previous] eight games,” and, “according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this stretch of six earned runs in eight games [was] the best in Nationals’ history (2005-[present]), and [was] the best eight-game stretch in MLB this season.”
Of course, as just about everyone noted, it was also a stretch in which they only had Max Scherzer on the mound for 12 pitches (before he left his outing against the San Francisco Giants last Friday), and were without Stephen Strasburg, who’s been on the IL since early June with nerve issues in his back/neck.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez has, throughout his time in D.C., and especially recently, stressed pounding the zone with strikes, and attacking hitters, while not issuing walks, but where is the line, the manager was asked before Saturday’s game, between pounding the zone and being aggressive, but not being too aggressive and missing in the middle of the zone?
“We have so much information on how to attack individual hitters, and we go over, one with the starters of that day,” Martinez explained, “... with the catchers, so when I say we want to attack the strike zone, it’s with a purpose. And when they attack the hitters, one, we want to make sure we talk a lot about what our strengths are as a pitcher, and then we go from there, and then we look at what the weaknesses are for a hitter. And then we figure out a way how to attack each hitter. So, and they’ve done a good job with that.”
A lot of work takes place before a starter (or reliever) gets on the mound.
“Our pitchers sit and watch videos of their opponents for 3-4 days, and then they come up with an idea and then [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey sits down, and kind of compares what needs to transpire for that particular game and those particular hitters, so and they’ve done well with it, and they’ve done well.
“The biggest thing is like I said, is to limit the damage, one, to stay out the big innings, the other thing, and to be aggressive early. Get ahead early, because as we all know, hitting with two strikes is not easy. Hitting period is not easy, but hitting with two strikes is a whole lot worse.”
How big or noticeable has Hickey’s influence on the team been in the veteran coach’s first season in D.C. after Martinez, who had history with him, brought him on after signing on to a long-term deal last winter?
“He’s been great,” Martinez told reporters. “Like I said, the conversations between him and the pitching staff and the catchers has been tremendous, they’re constantly talking, he’s been on top of them, like I said, about the bases on balls. He talks a lot to [Bullpen Coach] Henry [Blanco] about the bullpen and the usage and what they need to do when they come in games, and so far as you can see it’s worked out well.”
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t keep rolling on the first game of Saturday’s twin bill in the nation’s capital, with Joe Ross struggling and giving up six hits and five earned runs in five innings of work in a 5-1 loss, but Jon Lester stepped up and tossed six strong in a 6-2 win in the nightcap of the doubleheader.
Speaking of Scherzer and Strasburg:
Davey Martinez provided brief updates on both of his injured starters, Max Scherzer (groin) and Stephen Strasburg (neck strain), before the first of two on Saturday.
Scherzer, he said, “... is going to throw a normal bullpen today, and then we’ll see how he feels. Like I’ve always said, you know, he might feel good today, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Scherzer has been out of action since last Friday, when he tweaked his groin, but he’s only expected to miss the one start he already missed earlier this week.
And Strasburg, who has been out since early June (after returning from a month off dealing with inflammation in his right shoulder)?
“He’s throwing,” Martinez said. “He’s playing catch. These are the first steps, but we’re going to try to start building him up, but every day — we’re going to be very cautious, but every day he goes out there we’ll see how he feels the next day. If we need to back him off we will, so far so good, he feels good. So we’ll keep building him up.”
Scherzer told reporters after his throwing session on Saturday that things went well, and added, “See you on Tuesday.”
Max Scherzer, walking past us on the field: “40-pitch bullpen, all good. See you Tuesday.”— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) June 19, 2021
Ryne Harper Should Have Worn No. 34:
Reliever Ryne Harper was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Friday, as the club made a few moves before the series opener with the New York Mets, but he didn’t go far, and the right-hander was named the Nationals’ 27th man for Saturday’s doubleheader.
In five appearances out of the bullpen this year, in his second season with the Nationals, Harper has put up a 1.29 ERA, two walks, five Ks, and a .095/.167/.143 line against in 7 IP.
At Triple-A, the reliever, who signed a major league deal with Washington before the 2020 season, after nine seasons in the minors with the Mariners, Braves, and Twins, has put up a 2.81 ERA in 16 IP.
“He’s actually — the couple times he’s pitched here this last stint, he’s actually pitched really well,” Martinez said after Harper “returned” to the team.
“The biggest thing with him was pitching with conviction, and throwing all his pitches,” the manager said when asked what Harper has to do to get more consistent opportunities with the big league club.
“He’s a guy that mixes his pitches up just like [Paolo] Espino does,” the manager added, “... and he’s got to understand how to attack the strike zone early.
“Throw his curveball over for strikes early and things of that nature. So he’s been — I talked to him a couple days ago and I like what I’m seeing so far. He’s really understanding where to throw his fastball, when to throw his fastball, and that he can throw his curveball to certain hitters early in the count, and for strikes, and how to bury his curveball. He’s done well, so here’s a guy that I’m glad we have, because he gives us some depth. These guys understand that when they have options, a lot of times it’s just based on that, the reason why they come up and down and is not because they’re doing — throwing horrible, it’s just the fact that they have options and we need to do something else. And he understands that. He’s been great. His attitude is amazing, he works really hard, but he just understands his situation and he just wants to help us whenever he can.”
2020 1st Round pick Cade Cavalli was promoted from High-A Wilmington to Double-A Harrisburg earlier this week and on Friday night, he made his debut for the Senators.
Cavalli, the 22nd overall pick in the last draft, had a 1.77 ERA, a 0.885 WHIP, 12 walks (2.66 BB/9), and 71 Ks (15.71 K/9) over seven starts and 40 2⁄3 innings pitched for the Blue Rocks this season, before he jumped to Double-A.
In his first start for Harrisburg, the right-hander gave up three hits, two runs, and four walks, picking up six Ks from the 25 batters he faced in what ended up a 2-0 loss, with one of the three hits, a solo home run by the opposing pitcher.
“I heard he threw the ball well,” Martinez said when asked if he got any reports from the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate.
“He walked four or five hitters. My understanding is that he gave a home run up to a pitcher, which he wasn’t happy about, but they said he really threw the ball well.”