FRONT PAGE - Williams vs the Cubbies:
Through five starts and 26 1⁄3 innings pitched before last night, in his first year pitching for Washington, after signing 2-year/$13M free agent deal in D.C. this winter, 30-year-old starter Trevor Williams had a serviceable if not spectacular 4.10 ERA, a 4.87 FIP, and a .275/.313/.461 line against,
Prior to his fifth start in a Nationals uniform, manager Davey Martinez talked about why they liked Williams and gave him that two-year deal this winter.
“I love his competitiveness. I love the way he attacks the strike zone,” Martinez explained.
“Facing him, the guy competes, and the guy’s a gamer, and that’s something that I really love.”
And what does he mean when he says a pitcher “competes” because they all go do, right?
“He doesn’t give in, he doesn’t give in,” the sixth-year manager said.
“He understands what he needs to do to get hitters out, and if he gets rattled in some high-leverage situations, he stays focused, gives us some good innings, and so far, so good.
“He’s really battled so far in his few starts. He’s keeping in every game, which is nice.”
Williams tossed three scoreless, on 49 pitches (31 strikes), to start the second of four with the Chicago Cubs, and he took the mound in the fourth with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a two-out RBI single by Luis García, who drove CJ Abrams in from third after a leadoff single, sac bunt, and groundout moved Abrams around the bases.
Williams retired the side in order in an 18-pitch frame, which left him at 67 overall after four, and the starter stranded a leadoff single at third base in a 10-pitch top of the fifth inning, 77 total.
Martinez walked to the mound after Williams recorded the first out of the sixth, on his 83rd pitch, but he left the righty in ... until he issued a walk to Ian Happ on his 87th overall pitch.
Carl Edwards, Jr. took over on the mound.
Happ moved around to third on a double to right field by Cody Bellinger, so the Nationals walked Seiya Suzuki intentionally to set up a potential double play, but Edwards got Trey Mancini swinging for out No. 2, and Eric Hosmer popped up to end the threat and keep it 1-0 in the home team’s favor.
Trevor Williams’ Line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 87 P, 55 S, 6/3 GO/FO.
It ended up a 4-1 win for the Nationals...
“The big thing,” Martinez said after the win, which evened things up after two with the Cubs.
“Trevor giving us five strong and keeping us in the game, and then the bullpen coming in and slamming the door down. It was a good day, it was a good day for everybody.”
Mason Thompson gave up the lead on his second pitch, with Patrick Wisdom hitting an 0-1 sinker to left-center for a 426-foot, game-tying blast, 1-1 in the seventh.
Dominic Smith singled off reliever Keegan Thompson, who took over for the Cubs’ starter, Hayden Wesneski in the bottom of the seventh, and Smith took second on a Lane Thomas’ grounder, before scoring on an RBI single by CJ Abrams, 2-1. Abrams turned a 95 MPH 2-2 fastball inside out and singled to right field for his 3rd hit of the game (3 for 3, 2 R, RBI).
The C in CJ stands for Christopher.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 3, 2023
But it also stands for Clutch. pic.twitter.com/9SnRptZWzd
Victor Robles singled and Alex Call double in the next two at-bats, with Call driving in both Abrams and Robles for a 4-1 lead.
Hunter Harvey worked around a leadoff single and one-out walk for a scoreless top of the eighth.
Kyle Finnegan got the ninth with a three-run lead and worked around a two-out hit to end it, 4-1 Nationals final.
BACK PAGE - Learning on the Job:
CJ Abrams, 22, is clearly still learning on the job, developing as the Nationals, who acquired him in the Juan Soto trade with the San Diego Padres last summer, continue their top-down, full-on reboot/reset of the organization, and it falls on manager Davey Martinez and his staff to help the shortstop grow and try to build on his already impressive skill-set.
Martinez was asked about Abrams’ plate discipline, in particular, in the skipper’s pregame press conference on Monday, and he talked for a bit about the infielder’s discipline at the plate, or, more accurately, where Abrams gets himself in trouble, chasing out of the strike zone.
“He loves to chase the ball up,” Martinez explained. “We got to get him back down in the zone.”
“Last year,” he continued, “we talked a lot about him doing that. When the ball is down, he hits it hard. Perfect example yesterday, no matter what it was. When the ball is down he puts the barrel on the ball. He hit a double yesterday, the ball was down. We got to get him to look down, and it’s something we’re trying to get him to do. And not chase, not chase early in counts.
“If they’re going to flip you a breaking ball, there’s no need for you to really chase it if you’re looking for a fastball, but that’s something we’re trying to teach him right now.”
Martinez also discussed where second baseman Luis García, also 22, is focused right now, as he too tries to improve his plate discipline, and continues to develop on the job, in the majors.
“He talks really about trying to walk,” the manager said, “trying to limit his chases, wanting to hit for high average, wants to drive the ball. And as we told him, this is part of it. You’ve got to learn the strike zone, got to learn which balls you can hit hard, and he took it to heart and he’s really working hard on just getting the ball in the zone and trying to swing at pitches that he knows that he can possibly drive. But he’s been so good, and his overall game has been way, way better.”
Martinez said he’s liked what he’s seen from García at second base after he moved back and forth between second and short the last few seasons.
“He’s paying attention to detail,” the sixth-year skipper added. “He’s really focusing on his defense a lot, and talking to [coaches Gary DiSarcino], [Tim Bogar], and Ricky [Gutierrez] before the games trying to understand where to play, where to move throughout at-bats, and stuff like that. And then again with Darnell [Coles] and Six [Pat Roessler] in the cage, really working on the strike zone a lot. So he’s doing well.
“I think all our young kids are doing really well.”
Keibert Ruiz, 24, is a little further along in his development than the other members of the young core in the nation’s capital, but he’s still got plenty to learn as he too grows behind and at the plate.
Ruiz got off to a relatively slow start, (with a .189/.302/.324 line over his first 10 games and a .321/.367./411 line against in his last 14, going into the second of three with the Cubs in D.C. this week), but in the last few weeks he’s picked it up.
“Keibert is swinging the bat better than I’ve ever seen him swing it right now,” his manager said. “He’s hitting every ball on the nose, and I think that’s the same thing, a testament to trying to get him to understand what balls he hits hard, what balls he needs to take, and he’s getting pitches to hit, and he’s putting a really good swing on every ball.”
García is 9 for 34 in his last nine games, (.265/.316/.382), with two of his three doubles on the season over that stretch, three walks, and three Ks in 38 PAs, which Martinez said is a result of getting his legs underneath him.
“The whole thing was getting his legs underneath him. That’s what we really wanted to work on. He flies open a little bit against left-handed pitchers, we talked to him about staying in there, but the big thing was his legs, and trying to drive the ball to left-center field. He worked on it, we got him back to where feel like he needs to be, and he’s smoking some balls over to left-center field, left field, staying on some balls, and it gives him that much more time to get to the ball inside as well, as he got a base hit yesterday to the right side. He’s doing really well.”
The biggest thing he’s noticed recently, as the core members of the roster continue to learn is the telescoping turnaround between instruction and application of the lessons imparted.
“The thing we’re getting really good at, our young guys, is they’re starting to understand more and more, so it doesn’t them as long a time as it normally does to get through to them. We see something, we explain it to them, we work on it, and they get it right away,” Martinez said.
“And that’s awesome. So I am seeing some progress in what we’re trying to tell them and how they’re going about their business, and a lot of times they’re doing it on their own.
“[García will] come back and the first thing he says is, ‘I didn’t use my legs. I got to get in my legs.’ ‘Beautiful. And the fact that you thought about it and you’re thinking about it, that’s a big step.’ And they’re all doing that. Keibert. We talked to CJ a lot about chasing, about swinging at strikes, and he’ll be the first — he’ll come right up to you and say, ‘Man, I chased a bad pitch. I’ve got to get the ball up in the zone.’ So the recognition is there, and now the consistency has got to get better, and once these guys get consistent, you’ll start seeing results. Right now Luis is seeing results. Keibert is seeing results. [Victor] Robles, talked to him about staying above the baseball. When he does that he’s done well, and he’s starting to see a little bit of results.”
Abrams went 3 for 3 in last night’s game, and scored two runs in addition to driving one in.
“He stayed on top of the baseball,” Martinez said after the three-hit game for his shortstop, “... something that we preached with him and worked with him. No chasing.
“He chased a lot less today. But he was able to get the ball down in the zone and he hit the ball hard.”
How can Abrams continue to do consistently what he was able to do on Tuesday night?
“He’s got to continue to lay off the breaking balls,” Martinez said, “get the ball in the zone, and battle with two strikes. He did that today, really well. I said, ‘Hey, sometimes with two strikes you’ve got to cut your swing down and just put the ball in play, and he did that. And he used the whole field. He stayed behind the fastball today and drove it to left field, past the third baseman, and I thought that was awesome.”