When the dust settles on the first half of the 2021 season for the Washington Nationals, manager Davey Martinez and pitching coach Jim Hickey will have to figure out how to cut down on the home runs, especially by their starters.
The Nats surrendered three deep shots to the San Francisco Giants in spacious Oracle Park Friday night, accounting for four of San Francisco's five runs in a 5-3 loss to the Giants.
The homers brought the Nats’ pitching staff’s count to 113 for the season, third most in the National League, and seventh most in all of baseball.
To make matters worse, they’ve pitched the second fewest innings in the league, just 746, meaning the Nationals are surrendering homers at a rate of one every 6.1 innings pitched, the highest frequency in MLB. The Baltimore Orioles, who have given up an MLB-high 132 homers this season, allow them at a rate of one every 7.7 innings.
Since the calendar turned to July, the Nats have given up 14 home runs in nine games, 10 of those by the starters.
For the season, Nats’ starters have surrendered 74 homers, one behind the Chicago Cubs for the most in the NL.
So despite stats that place the Nats near the middle of the pack in every other pitching category, the home runs the team has allowed so far this season stick out like hanging slider and are costing the team games.
It may have been difficult to see which Giants hitter was at the plate Friday night with the gradient numerals in the “city connect” uniforms, but Giants hitters certainly had no problem seeing the ball out of the Nats’ hurlers’ arms.
Fill-in starter Paulo Espino was already behind 1-0 to start the second when starting catcher Yan Gomes left the game after pinching his left oblique following a strikeout against Logan Webb.
Working with backup catcher Tres Barrera, with all of two major league games under his belt, Espino gave up a one-strike single to Donovan Solano start the second, and was ahead on Curt Casali 0-2 when he left a four-seam fastball over the inner-middle part of the plate and Casali took it deep to center for a 3-0 Giants’ lead.
Espino didn’t blame Barrera for his problems that inning.
“I know it’s kind of tough for him to go in in that situation,” he said after the game. “I think that homer that I gave up, I don’t know if it was a bad pitch, maybe a bad location, again, I’m going to go look back a little more.”
Manager Davey Martinez pointed to Espino’s struggles finding the strike zone in a 29-pitch first inning.
“I said that his success comes when he’s attacking the strike zone,” said Martinez.
“He’s always ahead. He did a few times today, just he fell behind. When he falls behind and you have to throw strikes, it’s a little bit more difficult.”
After the Nats tied the score at 3 in the fourth, Sam Clay gave up the lead on a home run by Darrin Ruf.
“Hickey went out there to talk to him about Ruff, knowing that the lefties are behind him,” said Martinez. “He fell behind and he threw a ball where Ruf could hit it and hit it hard.”
The Giants got their fifth run in the seventh inning on homer by Wilmer Flores off Wander Suero.
Martinez said that despite the pitching and home run problems, his goal is still for the team to get to the All-Star break as healthy as possible.
“We had some guys in [Kyle] Finnegan and [Daniel Hudson] that just came off the IL, so we really want to be careful with those guys going into these last three days,“ Martinez told reporters before Friday’s game. “But they want to win, and when I ask them I’ve got to be smart. They’re probably going to say they can go, but we need to be smart about it.”