Front Page - Kuhl, Kuhl, Kuhl:
In the immediate aftermath of 2020 1st Round pick Cade Cavalli’s season-ending elbow injury last month, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez announced that the club would slot veteran righty Chad Kuhl in as the fifth member of the rotation in Washington, D.C.
“Chad Kuhl, right now, is going to get an opportunity,” Martinez said, as quoted on MASNsports.com, adding that the club thought they had enough depth in-house to compensate for the loss of Cavalli for the season.
“I really feel comfortable right now with the guys we have,” he explained.
Kuhl, a 30-year-old, six-year veteran, put up a 5.72 ERA, a 5.26 FIP, 58 walks, 110 Ks, and a .284/.355/.500 line against in 27 starts and 137 innings pitched for the Colorado Rockies last season, 64 1⁄3 of them in Coors Field (where he put up a 5.04 ERA vs his 6.32 ERA over 72 2⁄3 IP on the road).
“His breaking ball’s better now, because he’s not in Colorado,” Martinez said, via MASN.
“That’s going to help him out. He’s really working on a changeup; he threw a couple really good ones. And he’s got a mix where he can throw a two-seamer and a four-seamer, which we talked about when we got him here. He’s used both, and it’s so far been pretty effective.”
Three batters and five pitches into his regular season debut for the Nationals, Kuhl and the Nats trailed 1-0, with back-to-back singles and an RBI double for the first three Rays to step to the plate. An RBI groundout and sac fly followed, and 12 pitches in it was a 3-0 game in the Rays’ favor.
It was a 3-2 game when Kuhl took the mound in the top of the second inning and retired the first two batters he faced, but a 1-2 slider to Jose Siri ended up pretty much middle-middle, and Siri hit it out to left-center field for a solo shot and a 4-2 Rays’ lead.
Siri's starting the season hot pic.twitter.com/g5JPT5sELq— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) April 4, 2023
It was a 4-4 game when Kuhl returned to the mound in the third and retired the Rays’ hitters in order, and a 1-2-3 fourth had him up to seven straight retired and 12 of the previous 13 set down.
His streak of retired batters ended at eight with a one-out walk in the Rays’ fifth, but it was 5-4 Nats by then, and he got the next two batters to keep the Nationals up by a run after four and a half.
Chad Kuhl’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 81 P, 51 S, 3/6 GO/FO.
Kuhl mixed five pitches in, according to Baseball Savant, throwing 38% sliders, 20% sinkers, 19% knuckle curves, 12% changeups, and 11% four-seam fastballs, with 11 swinging and 14 called strikes on the night, eight of the swing and misses on his slider, and eight of the 14 called strikes as well.
“He battled back and kept us in the ballgame, which was awesome,” his manager said after what ended up a 10-6 loss. “The first couple innings didn’t go his way and then he started making pitches and he kept us in the game so I thought he did well.”
Alex Call went down for an 0-1 changeup from Rays’ starter Josh Fleming and lined it to left field for a two-out, two-run single which scored Joey Meneses, (who’d walked with one out), and Jeimer Candelario, (who’d singled his way on), 3-2 Tampa after one.
It was 4-2 Rays after one and a half, but Victor Robles (leadoff single to right) and CJ Abrams (double to left) scored to tie it up when Lane Thomas lined a first-pitch changeup out to left field for a two-run double (his 2nd two-base hit this season), which tied things up at 4-4.
Robles (leadoff single), Abrams (liner to right), and Thomas (single to center), combined to put the Nationals ahead and knock the Rays’ starter out, with three straight singles to start the home-half of the fourth, 5-4 Nationals when Robles scored on Thomas’s hit.
Erasmo Ramírez and Carl Edwards, Jr. followed Chad Kuhl on the mound, with a scoreless frame each, in the sixth and seventh, respectively, and the home team added to their lead with Alex Call (3 for 3, BB to that point) singling to start the home-half of the inning and scoring on Luis García’s pinch hit double, 6-4.
Hunter Harvey gave up a one-out walk to Yandy Diaz, then lost a seven-pitch battle with Randy Arozarena, who battled back from 0-2, fouled off three 1-2 pitches, and lined a 98 MPH fastballs to center for an RBI double in the Rays’ 8th, 6-5 Nats.
Kyle Finnegan got the ball and the save opportunity in the ninth, but the first pitch he threw was a sinker down the middle Luke Raley hit to left for a game-tying home run, 6-6. And the Rays took the lead three pitches later when Josh Lowe lined a splitter letter-high inside out to right field, 7-6. A walk, picked off runner, single, double, and three-run home run followed as the Rays knocked Finnegan out and took a 10-6 lead.
“We’ll look at some stuff, some video, see if he’s doing anything different,” Martinez said after the loss, when asked about the closer’s struggles. “It’s just location for him is not good right now. He’s leaving balls out over the plate, just can’t get the ball in, so we’ll take a look at some stuff for him, but I thought other than that we battled back, came back, boys played well, we hit the ball, played defense, so it’s unfortunate, you’ve got to play nine innings, we just couldn’t finish it.”
Back Page - Stolen Bases:
With bigger bases and new limits on how many times a pitcher is allowed to throw over to first base, an increase in stolen bases was fairly easy to predict and was kind of the goal (it seems), and it was the case over the first weekend of the 2023 MLB campaign.
2023: 70 of 84 (83.3%)
2022: 29 of 43 (67.4%)
“With SB% so high,” Passan added, “… teams are going to run more. Success rate bound to drop.”
Count the Nationals among those who expect to run a bit more than they did over the first weekend-plus of the season.
Through the first four games this year, the Nationals were one of four teams without a stolen base, with Luis García thrown out in the club’s only attempt in the first four, but manager Davey Martinez said it was a matter of context in the first three games.
“When you’re behind in the first inning, it’s tough,” Martinez joked before their series opener with Tampa Bay’s Rays on Monday afternoon.
“Yesterday, you know,” he continued, “the guy [Atlanta Braves’ starter Jared Shuster, was] a left-handed pitcher, the guy was fairly quick to home, but we will — when the opportunity arises, we’ll take our chances.”
When they do run, however, Martinez said, “... we want to be aggressively smart.”
“And we talked about this a little bit, you know, situation is going to dictate when we run, but we definitely want to take advantage. I’m looking at all these guys stealing bases, and sometimes the game dictates how much we run, but we’ll see, but we definitely know that the reason why they made the basis bigger and they did this limited pickoff, is so guys can steal more bases, but we’re definitely in on it.”
On the other side of things, Martinez said, he and his staff have told pitchers all spring they need to be quick to the plate knowing teams are determined to run more.
“We’re harping on it all the time,” he said.
“We have to be quick. That’s the only way we’re going to stop them guys from running, and also, think about holding the ball, changing your holds a little bit. That’s a big part of it. Just don’t go up there, and all of a sudden — because as a baserunner, you’ll sit there, and you can time a pitcher if he does the same thing over and over again, and now, because you can’t throw over as much, you just time him and go, so we try to encourage our pitchers to mix your holds.”
Asked if there were any concerns about any pitchers on their own staff and their time to the plate being a problem, the manager pointed to the back end of the bullpen.
“[Kyle] Finnegan is the only guy we were worried about,” Martinez explained. “He was at 1.3 in Spring Training, he bumped it up a little bit, but then again, I tell these guys all the time, focus on the hitter, especially those guys coming in like that in high-leverage situations. The starters are the guys that we want really to be able to give us a chance to turn a double play and not let guys just get on base and run.
“Give Keibert [Ruiz] a chance to throw them out because he can throw guys out.”
Give Adams A Chance:
Keibert Ruiz started and caught every inning of the first four games this season, but it was finally Riley Adams’ turn to start last night, with the 26-year-old backstop behind the plate for Chad Kuhl’s debut.
“He did well in Spring Training,” Davey Martinez explained before last night’s game, with the backstop hitting two doubles and three home runs with a walk and 15 Ks in 19 games played this spring.
“He matured a lot. We always talk about the biggest thing is the game-calling, and I thought he got a lot better at that. Even over the course of last year, towards the end of the year a lot of guys really enjoyed throwing to him when he was out there, so we didn’t miss much with that, and this year he came back, changed a little bit with his swing, we saw some more power in his swing, so that was awesome to see.”
Martinez was straight with the backup catcher in the nation’s capital, explaining how often he planned to use him to Adams and setting expectations for what he wanted to see when he did get a start.
“I told him, ‘Hey, look, you’re going to maybe play once or twice a week, just remember your No. 1 priority is calling the games, catching, and then after that, just go out there, and get a good pitch to hit and try to drive the ball somewhere.”
In the course of his usual routine of watching games back the night after they’re played, the manager said he’s seen plenty of positives from Adams behind the plate.
“I go back and replay the games as I said, and we know — myself, [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey — what we want to see, how we want to approach each game, and he follows the game plan really well. So that’s good, and like I said, catchers — he’s a big target, and pitchers love throwing to him because he’s such a big target back there and he frames balls well.”