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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Juan Soto taking three straight called strikes; Kyle McGowin & his slider + more...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s pregame Zoom call with reporters on Saturday afternoon...

Three Straight Called Strikes To Juan Soto:

“I want to go back and look if he ever took three straight strikes before, because I can’t remember that [ever happening].”

“Me neither,” Davey Martinez said.

The conversation in his pregame Zoom call on Saturday was about Juan Soto’s backwards K in an eighth inning at bat against New York Mets’ reliever Jeurys Familia on Friday night that began with the Washington Nationals’ 22-year-old slugger taking a splitter, slider, and sinker that weren’t all that close, to get up 3-0, before the hard-throwing right-hander came back with a sinker, a splitter, and a four-seam fastball, at 96.8, 93.5, and 98.6 MPH, respectively, all three of them called strikes on Soto, the first two on the outside edge, and strike three low in the zone but a strike on Gameday’s pitch tracker.

So was Soto, who doesn’t see a whole lot of strikes, caught off guard by three consecutive pitches in the zone, or did he not think the pitches were strikes?

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

“Yeah, he thought a couple pitches were borderline,” Martinez said, “... but hey, when you face a guy like Familia, he’s effectively wild, we know that, but you’ve got to be ready, because at any given moment he can throw you a ball right down the middle, and one pitch I thought Juan should have swung at, the other pitches, they were borderline, but with two strikes, for me, I often tell the guys if you think it’s that close, try to foul it off, or try to do something, but don’t get caught leaving it up to the umpire.”

Josh Bell started up 2-0 in the next at bat, and K’d swinging at three straight pitches, and then Carter Kieboom went down swinging at a 2-2 slider.

Familia, as Martinez said, is not a fun at bat.

“He’s got tremendous movement on his fastball,” the manager said, “he really does. It drops quite a bit, but the biggest thing is that you have to, as a hitter, when you know he’s going to throw hard, you’ve got to stay in the at bat. He can throw two balls way out of the strike zone and the next two pitches, as we saw yesterday, or three pitches, he can throw them right down the middle, so you’ve got to be ready, got to be aware of every pitch, and wait for that one that he makes a mistake on and gives you a ball to hit.”

McGow-in To Keep Throwing Sliders:

While we’re going all micro, and looking at specific at bats, how about Kyle McGowin’s 7-pitch, 7-slider K of Dominic Smith in the seventh inning of Friday night’s game. McGowin pounded the zone with sliders, mostly down, mostly in, got up 0-2, as Smith swung and missed at two, then after the Mets’ slugger fouled off four, he threw a fifth, and got him looking with one of two sliders he threw middle-out-ish.

It takes some fortitude to keep going to the well like that, sticking with slider after slider.

“It’s hard,” McGowin’s manager said after the game, and after the reliever got a hold with a 19-pitch, 15-strike, scoreless inning of work (in which he threw 16 sliders).

“The one thing that’s good is that he can change speeds on his slider a little bit and it has a different shape to it. Some are harder, and some are a little slower and a little bit more — it has an up and down effect, but ... he knows who he is, which is awesome, we’ve often talked about, ‘Know who you are,’ and he knows who he is, and I was hoping — that was the pitch that we were hoping — I don’t call games, but we go through reports and we talk to them about facing different guys and he stuck with it and got a big out.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

It was the third outing for McGowin in the eighth inning of a tightly-contested game since he returned from a strained right biceps which landed him on the IL back on July 11th. He made nine rehab appearances before coming back up on August 22nd, and all his trips to the mound so far have been in the eighth. So, is that his role going forward? Set-up man?

Or have the matchups in those appearances just coincidentally been ones that his manager liked?

“It was a little bit of both,” Martinez said. “He’s throwing the ball well, he’s throwing strikes. I often talk about — as you know — about the walks, and he’s shown me every time I’ve put him out there that he’s willing to throw strikes.”

On Friday night in New York, he was going up against the left-handed hitting Smith, switch-hitting Jonathan Villar, and lefty Jeff McNeil (who singled with two out to extend the inning before McGowin got the third out).

“It was a perfect — for me, I thought it was a perfect matchup for the guys he was facing, and he did really good, like I said, he came out and pumped strikes, so I think he actually did it in Miami one day too, I put him in in the eighth inning and he did well.

“So like I said, there’s a lot of things to figure out in that bullpen, especially the back end of the bullpen right now, people are going to get opportunities, they’re going to get put in situations, and as I try to map out the game and blocks of where I think these guys will fit, he fit perfectly in that group of hitters.”

Avila Plan/Expanded Roster:

Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty noted on Saturday that catcher Alex Avila made a rehab start in the Florida Complex League (that’s actually what they call it now), going 0 for 3 at the plate. Avila, 34, landed on the IL with bilateral calf strains back in early July, and it’s the first game back for the veteran catcher, who still has some work to do before he’s ready to return to the majors.

“He’ll stay down there for now,” Martinez said on Saturday afternoon, with “down there”, at the club’s facilities in West Palm Beach, FL.

“He’s playing some games, getting as many at bats as he needs, he’s catching, so we’ll keep him down there until he feels like he’s ready to go.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

And when he does feel like he’s ready, with rosters expanding to 28 players (from 26), can the club carry three catchers, with Tres Barrera and Riley Adams handling catching duties for the Nationals right now, with Avila injured, Yan Gomes traded, and René Rivera DFA’d?

“I think there is a scenario that we carry three,” Martinez said.

“We’re just now starting discussions, [GM Mike] Rizzo and I — about what we’re going to do, we haven’t set anything in stone yet, but yeah there is a possibility we keep three catchers.”

The fourth-year skipper was asked what boxes are left for Avila to check before they have to make a decision.

“As you know, he’s got to catch at least 6-7 innings in a game, go back-to-back days, want him to go back-to-back days,” Martinez said.

“Want him to get up the next day and feel no pain, and get at bats. He hasn’t played in a very long time, so I want him to see some pitches and get some good, quality at bats.”