Joan Adon, the Washington Nationals’ 23-year-old starter, threw 43 pitches in the first two innings in his 2022 debut, but managed to extend his initial outing with a couple efficient frames in the third and fourth (18 pitches total).
He was 25 pitches into the fifth inning, however, having given up a single, two walks, and a grand slam by Pete Alonso on his 86th pitch overall when manager Davey Martinez went to the bullpen.
Adon talked after the outing about how he was able to work so efficiently in third and fourth innings by bearing down and focusing on pounding the strike zone.
“I think it was more of me focusing in on the fact that I knew that I had to have quick innings for me to get an extended outing, get into the fifth and sixth inning without a problem,” he’d explain, “so I kind of beared down and focused more on trying to get quick outs.”
Adon’s manager pointed to a talk Pitching Coach Jim Hickey had with the young starter for inspiring the efficient stretch.
“He had one inning where he threw seven pitches, because Hickey went down and said, ‘Ten pitches or less, all strikes, see what happens,’” Martinez said, “... and he threw seven pitches.
“So we’ve got to continue to harp on that and get them to believe that they’re good enough to do that.”
The manager talked at length before the second outing for the rookie starter about what he was looking for in terms of improvement from Adon start to start early this season.
“For me it’s not speeding up during high-leverage situations, and we talked a lot about that,” Martinez said.
“When we had that one inning [in his first start] where he stopped breathing a little bit,” the fifth-year skipper said, “... things got a little quicker on him, so we tried this week to just kind of say, ‘Hey, whenever that happens you got to slow everything down and just make your pitches, and your stuff is so good that you’ll get out of the innings, and limit the damage.’”
Martinez tried to also stress to Adon the reality of pitching in the majors, or in just pitching professionally, really.
“‘Hey, you’re not going to throw zeroes up every inning, but limit the damage,” he said.
“If we can get through an inning unscathed [or] just give up one run, with our lineup we’ve got a chance to come back, so this is something that they all need to learn, because once somebody gets on base, when you’re young, you can see a little bit of panic, ‘Oh my god, I can’t let him get to the next base, or I can’t let him get to the next base,’ and next thing you know, the wheels fall off.
“So, it’s about, I always tell them, ‘Hey, when that happens, focus on strike one. Let’s get strike one and learn from there.’
“But we talked, he said he learned a lot from that, and the fact that we talked a lot about his pitch to Alonso [in start No. 1], about giving in, and just trying to throw a strike, and the ball ended up being right down the middle, and I asked him, ‘What did you learn?’ He said, ‘I still got to make my pitches in those situations, and if I walk him, that was one run. I ended up giving up four because I threw the ball right in the meat of the plate.’ And that’s good to hear from him. He’s telling me that, and I appreciated that, and that’s only telling me that he’s learning and he wants to get better.”
In start No. 2 for the right-hander, on Thursday night in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Adon took the mound with a 3-0 lead, but gave up a leadoff home run and back-to-back one-out walks, which he stranded at the end of a 26-pitch first, then, after a quick, 11-pitch, 1-2-3 bottom of the second, he surrendered a single, a two-run home run, back-to-back, one-out hits, a two-run double, and an RBI triple, in what ended up a 24-pitch third which left him at 61 pitches overall after three innings.
After a 14-pitch fourth in which he worked around a two-out hit, Adon returned to the hill in PNC, and picked up back-to-back Ks, but a two-out free pass and single ended his outing in what ended up a 9-4 Nationals’ loss.
“We jumped out to an early lead, and we got through the first inning with just a run, but after that, that one inning he blows up,” Martinez said after the game. “And it’s like he did last time. It’s just that last inning we’ve got to get him through, and that’s something I talked about before with him, just, ‘Hey, I’ve got to slow things down. I can’t speed things up. I got to make sure I throw the balls where I need to throw them.’
“And once again, the game sped up on him and like I said, we got through the inning, we sent him back out, and he did pretty good after that, but his location was a lot better.”
With his mid-90s fastball (94.2 MPH average), Adon might have gotten by without precise command pitching in the minors, but at the major league level, Martinez said, it won’t play.
“He would get away with that, yeah, and the biggest thing here is that when you get to this level, the chases go away a lot,” Martinez said. “You’ll get chases here and there, but when you’re missing your spots — big league hitters don’t chase. So he’s got to understand that, he’s got to throw strikes, he’s got to be around the strike zone.”