Jake Irvin put up solid starts in his first two outings in the majors (1-0, 0.84 ERA, 4.02 FIP, .177/.333/.206 line against in 10 2⁄3 innings pitched), but the Nationals’ 26-year-old starter has gone through a rough stretch over his last five (0-3, 8.41 ERA, 6.71 FIP, .302/.408/.488 line against in 20 1⁄3 IP), so the club decided to skip his turn in the rotation this time.
“We have an opportunity to do some different things, and to give him a break here was nice,” skipper Davey Martinez explained before Washington’s series finale with Atlanta’s Braves on Sunday afternoon.
“We’re going to eventually have to do that to all of our young guys here soon,” the sixth-year skipper added of watching his young pitcher’s workloads.
“So we had these days off coming up, so we thought we’d give Jake a breather.
“But you know, he can be available out of the bullpen as well. We just want to not have him start and then he’ll get back in the rotation next time around.”
Jake Irvin, Filthy Curveball and Changeup. pic.twitter.com/TyrAxLrVli— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 9, 2023
The focus while Irvin is working behind the scenes?
“He’s been working with [Pitching coach Jim] Hickey about staying behind the baseball,” Martinez said. “Head, his direction as well. Not leaking to the front side. So it’s been going well. The other day in the bullpen we saw his velo go tick up a little bit, which is good. But we’re just trying to get him straightened out so he can attack the strike zone.”
The positives for Irvin as he works to get on track? He’s soaking up all the data and applying all the advice the big league staff is giving him, as he tries to refine things and take the next step after working his way up to the majors.
Jake Irvin, Filthy 82mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/E0shFHnCWx— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 14, 2023
“He’s done really well,” Martinez said. “He loves information. He goes out there and gets his work done. But he wants to get better and that’s a good thing. Like I said, these guys, you got to remember where he started from. He’s a guy that had [Tommy John] surgery [in 2021]. We got him back, he’s healthy and we got to take baby steps with him. But he’s learning a lot. He’s learning what he needs to do to get better, and we’re going to keep working with him.”
Dom Smith’s Big Hit:
Dominic Smith didn’t start in Saturday’s game against the Braves, sitting for the time since April 28th, though he did, in the end, come on to play from the sixth inning on.
Before the game, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez explained the decision to sit Smith and give him a breather ... finally.
“It was just the plan coming into the series,” Martinez said, as much about giving his bench players at-bats as getting Smith some rest. “I’m trying to keep everybody involved. Get some guys days off. We’re getting to a point where it’s starting to get warm out there. It’s tough to play 162 games, so I want to keep these guys fresh and get these other guys in and get them some at-bats.”
Smith put up a .280/.354/.350 line, four doubles, a home run, 14 walks, and 21 Ks in 38 games and 155 plate appearances between days off, though he slowed a bit (going just 5 for 31, .161/.212/.161 over eight games) in the last week-plus.
Martinez saw an opportunity to get Smith hard-earned rest.
“I’ve been looking at this and we had that air quality day [Thursday off] kind of, but I was looking coming in here to give him this day off, and we have a day game tomorrow as well. He’s been playing every day and like I said before, his defense has been unbelievable. He’s been hitting the ball. He’s not driving the ball, but he’s been getting big hits for us. But I want to give him a day today.”
Smith went 0 for 2 in two PAs Saturday, and 0 for 2 to start the day on Sunday, but the third time up in the series finale, the 27-year-old went yard, hitting his 2nd home run of the season (his first since April 29th) on a middle-middle, 91 MPH first-pitch fastball from reliever Kirby Yates. Smith hit it 444 ft to right field to put the Nationals up 6-2 in a win which snapped a six-game losing streak.
“Hey, when you can hit a homer like that and give us a bigger lead, it’s always awesome,” Martinez said after the game.
“So like I said before, he’s been playing unbelievable defense, he was swinging the bat well, got into a little bit of a funk, hopefully today he broke out of it.”