Tanner Rainey locked down the Nationals’ 3-1 win over Pittsburgh’s Pirates on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., after eight strong from starter Patrick Corbin, converting his sixth save in seven opportunities in June. But there was a little drama in the top of the ninth, as usual, when Rainey takes the mound.
The hard-throwing right-hander went 90% fastballs in his latest outing, averaging 98.4 MPH and getting up to 100, but he gave up a one-out walk, and a two-out single which gave the visiting team a chance to take the lead with one swing, before struck out the final batter of the game to earn his 11th save of the season.
Rainey’s getting the job done, for the most part, in June, but runners are reaching base too, so what does he have to do to tighten things up and throw cleaner innings? He has not had a 1-2-3 frame since late May, but his manager said that’s just part of the learning process for the 29-year-old reliever.
Davey Martinez pointed to the six walks in 9 2⁄3 IP this month, (5.59 BB/9), and 3.96 BB/9 on the year on Wednesday morning when he was asked for his take on what their closer needs to clean up to take the next step.
“It’s the walks. It’s the walks,” Martinez told reporters in his pregame press conference in advance of the series finale with the Pirates.
“He loses the strike zone for a hitter or so, but I think he’s throwing the ball well though. I think it’s — sometimes it’s his decision-making a lot on pitches that gets him in trouble, so we just have to make him understand, look, he’s throwing the ball 97-99 MPH, understand the score of the game, understand what we’re trying to do, and there’s times where I think — and situations where he feels like a walk won’t hurt him because he knows that the next guy he can get out. But I told him, I said, ‘When you go out there, it’s three outs, three quick outs. Don’t worry about... “ — but he’s got to understand, we’re up two, attack hitters, attack hitters and try to keep that guy off the base, but I think he’s learning. Closing is not easy as we all know.”
“I’ve always said that I really feel like he’s got the stuff to be a closer, he’s got the mentality to be a closer,” Martinez added.
“Now he’s just got to understand what he needs to do to get through those three outs quickly.”
Martinez was also fine with the 90/10 fastball/slider split from Rainey, which is a break from the usual 70/30-ish split for the reliever.
When you have 100 MPH in your arsenal, use it he said, and know when and where to go to the slider.
“He should understand who he can throw sliders to, but when he’s feeling that good, and his fastball is that good, and he’s got good command, I mean, 100 is hard to hit. you know,” Martinez reasoned. “And that’s something that he needs to understand. [Kyle] Finnegan is kind of the same way, you know. You’re throwing 98 MPH sinkers, sometimes, hey, that’s all you need sometimes, just beware of what’s going on. You don’t have to trick anybody. So just go out there — for me, the pressure is more on the hitters when those guys come in, as opposed to the pitcher, so just throw your best stuff.”
Rochester’s Sun Monster:
Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty was on the scene for Aníbal Sánchez’s first rehab start for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on Tuesday, and he noted that the 38-year-old, 15-year veteran, who’s preparing to make the first start of his 16th big league campaign did struggle a bit in his return to the mound.
Sánchez threw 52 pitches in the first two innings of what ended up a 2 2⁄3-inning, 61-pitch outing for the veteran who had an “interesting” explanation for his early-inning struggles.
“Aníbal struggled in the first inning,” Davey Martinez said, before laughing to himself then trying to continue. “So apparently the sun is really bad, and it was in his eyes, and he didn’t realize how bad it was, so he couldn’t see the strike zone, so he threw a lot of pitches, and when the sun went down they said he was way better. So I’m going to chalk it up to the sun being a factor why he threw so many pitches, but he said he felt good. So that’s the good news. So we’ll get him back out there in five days. Stretch him out. But he threw two innings and he had  pitches, which is not who Aníbal is.”
Was it really that bad though?
“When I heard that, I was like, ‘What?’ Put sunglasses on,” Martinez joked.
“No. But apparently they said it is bad. The sun drops behind home plate and it’s like right in your eye, so.”
Mason Thompson pitched for Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday as well, throwing two scoreless frames on 23 pitches (16 strikes). Thompson went on the IL in mid-April with a biceps strain.
His outing on Tuesday was his third for the Red Wings after he got three in with the Florida Complex League (FCL) Nationals.
Thompson, 24, “ threw the ball really well,” manager Davey Martinez said on Wednesday. “So that’s good to see, so now it’s just about building him up.”
“We just want to get him back-to-back days, one-plus innings, we got to continue to stretch him out a little bit. Apparently his secondary pitches weren’t as sharp as we wanted them to be. He’s working a little bit on a different slider, so we want him to kind of perfect that, but his fastball was good.”