“Game 1 will begin at 1:05 PM as originally scheduled,” the Nationals announced on Twitter last night. “Game 2, the postponed game, will begin at 6:05 PM.”
Though Chad Kuhl was set to pitch the series opener in Nationals Park, he’ll instead take on his former team in the nightcap, with Patrick Corbin, who was scheduled to start at 1:05 for the home team, staying the starter for the new opener.
While you wait for the start of the split-admission twin-bill, here are some leftover notes and quotes from the Nationals’ series win over the New York Mets in Citi Field...
Reporters had some questions after Mason Thompson blew a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, half an inning after the Nationals rallied to go up 8-7 on New York’s Mets in Citi Field Thursday night, about using the reliever again after he’d thrown three scoreless (on 28 pitches) in the first game of the series two nights earlier.
“We wanted Mason in that block of guys,”Martinez said after what ended up a 9-8 loss to the Mets, referring to the troika of right-hand swinging Starling Marte, a switch-hitter, Francisco Lindor, and right-handed slugger Pete Alonso, who were due up for the home team.
“That was the decision. Tied or ahead, that was Mason. He’s been throwing the ball really well. And we want him against those righties. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
Marte singled, took third on Lindor’s fly ball out, and scored to tie it on an RBI double by Alonso, 8-8.
Jeff McNeil followed with an RBI triple, and the Mets, who’d blown a 7-3 lead, were back on top, 9-8.
“He was trying to go in, he yanked a few balls out over the plate,” Martinez said when he was asked what went wrong for Thompson this time out. “I mean, that was the big thing tonight, but like I said, I’d do it again like that.
“[Hunter] Harvey was down, and Mason has been throwing the ball really, really well.”
Were the results for Thompson a matter of the righty being tired after Tuesday’s three-inning appearance?
“No,” Martinez said. “His velo was good, everything was good, he was just getting a little bit out front. He tried to go in a few times and the ball just ran away a little bit, and if he gets that ball a little bit in to McNeil, either he hits a ground ball or he hits a fly ball, he just couldn’t get it in there.”
All Those Ks:
Josiah Gray struck out nine of 23 Mets’ hitters in the series opener in New York, and reliever Mason Thompson added four strikeouts (9 BF) in three scoreless frames in relief. MacKenzie Gore struck out 10 of the 25 batters he faced in the second of three in Citi Field, before the Nats’ relievers Hunter Harvey (3) and Kyle Finnegan (2) added five for [checks math] 15 total in a shutout win in Game 2 with Washington’s NL East rivals.
Before the series finale in Flushing, Queens, New York, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked what was working in the first two games that resulted in all the strikeouts from a team in the Mets which did not strike out much early this season (20.6% K% after the series, which was the 5th lowest K% in the majors).
“For us, it’s about controlling the strike zone,” Martinez explained, “attacking early, getting early strikes. Strike one. Strike one is the key. We worked on it all spring. We continue to work on it. I think if you get ahead you’ll see some better results, and we’re doing that right now.”
Josiah Gray's 8th and 9th Ks. pic.twitter.com/A1QF750BoA— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 26, 2023
The sixth-year skipper said more than a team-wide approach to preparation for each game or series, the preparation the Nationals do with their pitchers is individualized, tailored to each pitcher’s strengths.
“I think it’s more just pitcher-by-pitcher,” he said. “How we feel we can attack hitters based on our pitchers, and they’ve done well. We do our due diligence before each series, during the series [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey will meet with the catchers and the starting pitcher, but it’s not just them, it’s our bullpen too that — we’re coming in and giving them a game plan before they face different hitters.
“They’re all throwing strikes and I think that’s the key.”
If strike one, in particular, and pounding the strike zone in general is so central to the whole approach the club espouses, why is it such a difficult thing to convince pitchers is to their benefit? Why do the young pitchers in baseball shy away from the white of the plate/strike zone to the point it has to be stressed so often as they develop?
“I think we’re so — look, hitting is tough, we all know that,” the 16-year major league veteran acknowledged.
“It’s a tough thing to do and I think sometimes pitchers, young, old, they run away from the strike zone. And usually when you fall behind, I always explain to our guys, ‘Look, if you throw 95 MPH and all of a sudden you’re 1-0, all of a sudden that fastball becomes 93, if you’re ahead [0-1], it becomes 97, so the more you work ahead — and now all of a sudden you go 1-2, 0-2, there’s a lot going on in a hitter’s mind, there really is. They got to worry about this pitch, that pitch, and that’s when you see the chases. But until then if they are ahead, you don’t hardly see — from everything that I’ve done and everything I see, you don’t see the kind of chases 2-0, 3-1, they’re more selective, and when a good hitter gets the ball in the zone, typically here they don’t miss, and that’s something that we’ve been preaching all spring about. It’s a lot easier for pitchers, especially our young guys, to work ahead than it is to work from behind.”
MacKenzie Gore, Dirty 84mph Curveball...— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 27, 2023
9th K. pic.twitter.com/R6iJAIARgV
And what is the message to pitchers to get them over the fear of pounding the zone and potential damage if they do?
“To me 0-0 and 1-1 counts are huge in an at-bat,” he said, “and that’s what we’re trying to — if you can get ahead 0-0, a guy gets up there he’s ramped up, all of a sudden he gets a pitch to hit but he fouls it off, hey, you’re 0-1, that’s awesome, now all of a sudden you go 1-1, that difference between a 2-1 and 1-2 count is huge, you can see it in the numbers … so we try to preach 1-1 is just as important as the 0-0 count.”