Going into the second of two with the Seattle Mariners last week, Washington’s starting pitchers were on a nice run, with, the Nationals noted, “a 3.23 ERA (11 ER/30.2 IP) with a .202 opponents’ batting average,” in the previous six games.
Aníbal Sánchez continued the positive stretch with 4 1⁄3 scoreless innings in which he gave up two hits and two walks in T-Mobile Park, before the Nationals returned home to D.C. for a series with Cincinnati.
“This whole road trip,” manager Davey Martinez said, “they were outstanding. From starters to the relievers, they’ve pitched really well. That part of it, we’re doing good.”
The fifth-year skipper pulled Sánchez off the mound after 81 pitches against the Mariners, with a man on third base and one out and the Nationals up 1-0 in the fifth.
Reliever Hunter Harvey picked up back-to-back Ks to strand the inherited runner.
“I liked the matchup with the hard stuff [of Harvey’s] on those guys. Aníbal ... he’s done well, but he gets right about that 80-pitch mark, I think that’s good.
“We had a fresh bullpen. Harvey was fresh. I liked the matchup right there, and Harvey came in and did well.”
Martinez praised the pitching once again after Sánchez extended the solid run by Nationals’ starters, who had at that point, however, and still had not as of this past Sunday, earned a W since back on July 6 in Philadelphia.
It was the second consecutive solid start by Sánchez, the 38-year-old, 16-year veteran who began slowly this season once he was back on the mound after returning from a months-long stint on the Injured List for a cervical nerve impingement in his neck, which delayed the start of his 2022 campaign till mid-July.
His last few starts have been much better, and he’s helped contribute to the solid pitching in the last weeks.
“It’s been good,” Martinez said. “And I always talk about, these guys that come back, even after they go out on a rehab assignment, it takes them a while to really get going. His last two outings, he’s done well, but I think that’s a testament to like, just getting in that groove, fine-tuning your pitches, facing big league hitters, all of that stuff, but the one thing I can say about Aníbal right now, he’s keeping us in the ballgame.”
A debuting Cade Cavalli (6 H, 7 ER in 4 1/3 IP) and veteran Paolo Espino (7 H, 3 ER in 5 1⁄3 IP) followed Sánchez in the rotation with less-than-stellar starts, but their manager said overall, he’s been happy with the pitching recently.
Going into the finale with the Cincinnati Reds in D.C. on Sunday, however, the streak of W-less appearances for their starters had stretched to 43 consecutive outings, “the longest such streak in Major League Baseball history,” as Washington mentioned in their pregame notes.
“Look, one thing good about our group, and we saw yesterday with Espino, these guys go out there and they’re competing,” Martinez told reporters.
“I don’t think none of them worry about the wins or losses, I think they just want to go out there and get as many outs as they possibly can. And they’ve been really good.
“These guys, they’ve kept us in the game for the most part, and today, no different, I expect [Patrick] Corbin to go out there and compete, and keep us in the game.”
One thing he did say he wanted to see improve, however, was pitch efficiency from his starters.
“I’ve seen a lot where the first innings our pitch counts are getting really up there, and then we’ve got to manage their pitch count,” he explained. “So we’re getting a lot of pitchers that as the game settles in, yeah, they’re pitching a lot better as we go along, but yet, all of a sudden now you look up there, and it’s five innings and they got 90 pitches. That’s something that we need to work on right away. I mean, and we talk about this all the time, kind of pitching to contact early and often. We got a lot of guys that strike guys out, or look to strike guys out.
“A lot of 0-2 counts, to 3-2 counts, we talk a lot about being more efficient when you get to 0-2, and trying to attack hitters in that way, so we definitely got to get better in those first couple innings about being a little bit more efficient, and trying to get out of there with 15 pitches or less, and if we can do that then it sets up the rest of the game.”
It would help the starters and relievers, of course, if the Nationals, who have struggled to in recent weeks, would provide some more run support.
“We got to hit,” Martinez said. “We got to score runs. The biggest thing now is that we’re not scoring any runs. We’ve played good enough baseball, but we got to score runs. If we can score 4-5 runs a game, these guys are going to win some games, but it’s tough when we’re only scoring 1-2 right now.”
For Corbin and the Nationals’ bullpen on Sunday, three runs were enough, with the lefty holding the Reds to four hits and two runs (one earned) over six innings before Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards, Jr., and Kyle Finnegan threw a scoreless inning each in a 3-2 win in which Corbin earned the first W for a starter in 44 games.
“For all of us, a win is a win, right?” Martinez said after the win, dismissing the notion the club was concerned about the streak.
“For me, and even though — Patrick, he said it best, it’s a team win. We wanted to go out there and compete, and that’s what we talk about doing every day, and he did that today, and he kept us in the ballgame and he pitched well.”
Corbin told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, the Nationals’ players did, of course, know about and want to end the streak.
“Everyone here knows that record that was broken today,” Corbin said. “It’s not something that I’m proud of. We’ve been pitching good as a staff, and a lot of guys have been going out there giving us a chance to win games. It just happened to be today that I gave up a couple runs early, the offense up and scored big, and then our bullpen came in and pitched great.”
“That’s the thing,” he added. “It’s a team game, and the starters are doing a good job. On the other side of it, we’ve got to score more runs and keep us in the ballgame. If we could score three, four, five runs, we’ve got an opportunity, the way our guys are pitching.”