Not Just A Glove:
Going into the series finale in San Francisco, CA’s Oracle Park, Dominic Smith was 14 for 36 (.389/.476/.500) with a double, home run, three RBIs, five walks, and five runs scored in his previous 11 games.
As mentioned in the Nationals’ notes for the third game of three with the Giants, Smith, “... struck out just three times in 42 plate appearances over [that] stretch,” which took him from a slow start and .221 AVG on the year up to .277 after a 3 for 3 game on Tuesday in which he’d added a walk to the three hits.
“He’s using his legs,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said when asked what’s been different for Smith recently.
“We really — that’s something we talked to him early in the season — he wasn’t using his legs. He was getting out there a little bit, but now he’s staying down, he’s using his legs a lot better. He’s able to stay behind the ball, and is really starting to hit the ball hard to all fields.”
The power isn’t there at this point, with Smith connecting for just two doubles and a home run so far. He went 1 for 4 with a walk in the Nationals’ 11-6 win in the series finale on Wednesday.
His manager said he expects the power numbers to pick up as Smith makes more and better contact.
“He’s started making hard contact, which is the beginning of getting out of any kind of funk,” the Nationals’ sixth-year skipper said, and the key to it coming around, he added, “... is just to square the balls up and hit them hard. Now all of a sudden, his pitch selection will get a lot better, and he’ll start driving balls he should be driving.”
In his first season (2022) in the Nationals’ bullpen, Hunter Harvey threw 77.8% four-seam fastballs (98.2 MPH average velo; .202 BAA ), 15% splitters (89.4 MPH; .241 BAA), 6.7% curveballs (82.8 MPH; .625 BAA), and the occasional slider and sinker.
This year?: 63.3% fastballs (98.2 MPH; .212 BAA); 23.5% splitters (89.5 MPH; .133 BAA); 8.8% curves (83.3 MPH; .000 BAA).
What does his manager think of the change in pitch usage and fewer fastballs from the reliever (who has posted a 2.30 ERA, a 3.18 FIP, seven walks, 18 Ks, and a .177/.267/.275 line against in 15 games and 15 2⁄3 IP this season)?
“I love his fastball,” Davey Martinez said with a laugh. “But you know his splitter is getting better, it really is, he’s got good movement on it, but I want to see him attack with his fastball. He’s really good when he does that, especially when he gets ahead. I don’t want him to start throwing a whole lot of breaking pitches, cause you create habits, and then all of a sudden now you lose your fastball, and you lose the strike zone sometimes with your fastball. But he’s done really well, and I know he’s really working on being able to throw that splitter over the plate, but when he comes in the game, especially those high-leverage situations, his fastball plays. So I don’t want him to forget that he’s got a really good fastball.”
As he sees Harvey leaning more and more on his four-seam/splitter combo, the Nats’ skipper said he was seeing flashes of Hunter’s father, Bryan Harvey, who saved 177 games in his nine-year big league career with a similar arsenal.
“I keep saying this, ‘The more and more I look at you you’re starting to become your dad,’” Martinez said. “His dad threw a really hard fastball, but his splitter was phenomenal, I mean the bottom fell out of it. So I said, ‘Your dad had an unbelievable career, you need to have your own career. Okay, so you do you,’ but he’s been awesome.”