Does Irvin Keep Improving?:
Davey Martinez told reporters, before Jake Irvin’s third start back on the mound following the club’s decision to skip him for one turn in the rotation so the 26-year-old rookie could work on some things behind the scenes they had identified in his previous outings, he did think it had the desired effect.
“He worked on some things with [Nationals’ Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, and Hickey got him straightened out a little bit, about not being so rotational on his hip, staying on his legs,” the manager said.
“It’s given him a little bit more power in his lower half, so and throwing better strikes, more consistent strikes. And hopefully he goes out there again today and repeats that and gives us a good outing.”
Irvin gave up three runs (2 ER) in his first two starts back in the starting mix, and his manager said he was pitching with a little more confidence since taking the turn off.
In his manager’s mind, it was about Irvin, “… accepting the fact that he’s still got some stuff to learn, working with Hickey, understanding what we’re trying to get out of him and what he needs to be, and him going out there and actually working on these things. He’s going to be — like I’ve said before — he’s going to be one of the guys that we count on in the future.
“He’s going to be a guy, a kid, that can give us 6-7 innings. He was hurt before, we got him back, and now he’s starting to really understand what he can do when he utilizes his body the way he’s supposed to, and throws strike one.
“When he gets ahead, he’s got a great changeup, good curveball, his fastball is electric, but he’s got to work ahead.”
Irvin gave up two runs early in his third start back, but settled in after that (1 ER on 3 hits over 5 IP) and helped the club win in Seattle.
“Irvin again, gave us a good outing. He stayed in there and gave us enough to keep us close,” Martinez said after the W.
Irvin tossed a scoreless, 15-pitch first in last night’s series opener against Cincinnati’s Reds in the nation’s capital, but gave up three hits and a run in the top of the second inning, with Jake Fraley singling with one out, taking third on Spencer Steer’s two-out hit, and scoring on Tyler Stephenson’s RBI line drive to right to make it 1-0 Reds.
With a runner on and one out in the top of the fourth inning, Joey Votto, who stepped in in the second with a runner on and one out and sent a center-cut 94+ MPH, first-pitch, four-seamer out to the warning track in right field the first time up, got another shot with one runner on base and hit another meaty fastball 394 ft to left-center for a two-run blast and a 3-0 Reds’ lead.
It was 3-1 in the fifth inning, when Irvin stranded a leadoff single in a 20-pitch frame which left him at 75 pitches total after five, and he came back out with a clean, 14-pitch, 1-2-3 top of the sixth, which ended his 12th outing of the year...
Jake Irvin’s Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 89 P, 56 S, 5/7 GO/FO.
Four starts back from the break, Martinez said, he’s been really happy with what he’s seen from Irvin.
“It’s been really good,” he said. “Not only the rest, but the work he put in-between that to get him squared away with his lower half. I thought Hickey did a great job with him and trying to get him to understand how that lower half works with him, and he’s been really, really good, really good. He’s throwing the ball on a downward plane, he’s throwing the ball north and south, but really, really well. And kudos to him for allowing Hickey to talk to him about it and work on it, and like I said, he’s pitching really well.”
• Lane Thomas had hits in 18 of his last 20 games after he lined a ground-rule double over Reds’ left fielder Will Benson’s head on a 2-1 fastball up from Luke Weaver which he hit into the visitor’s bullpen on a bounce, but he was stranded three outs later, with a fly to center by Luis García moving him to third, before Jeimer Candelario K’d chasing out a high fastball and Dominic Smith grounded out. 0 for 3 w/ a runner/RISP to start the game.
• As the Nationals noted in the pregame notes for the series opener with the Reds, All-Star snub (so far, he’ll probably end up going) Jeimer Candelario went into the first of four with Cincinnati in D.C. having, “... hit safely in nine straight games and in 14 of his last 16, going 21-for-61 (.344 AVG) with nine doubles, three home runs, nine RBI[s], five walks, three stolen bases, and 12 runs scored during the 16-game stretch.”
With the Nationals trailing 3-0 in the fourth last night, Candelario stepped in and hit an 87 MPH, 2-1 curve low and away 414 ft to center field in Nationals Park, for his 2nd HR in two games, and his 12th overall this season, 3-1.
• Davey Martinez’s club was 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position on the night before the Nationals got a big one-out hit from Keibert Ruiz in the sixth, with the catcher driving Jeimer Candelario in with a line drive to right after the Nats’ third baseman singled, and moved up on a single by Dom Smith and a line drive to center by Joey Meneses (off reliever Ian Gibaut who replaced the Reds’ starter after Smith’s hit). Ruiz hit an 0-2 fastball to right field for his 31st RBI of the season, 3-2 Reds after six.
“We chased a little bit,” Martinez said after the one-run loss in the series opener. “We got some balls in the zone, we hit some balls hard, like I said, with runners in scoring position was the big thing. We just got to not chase, get the ball in the zone, and understand that we should be the ones in control up there with the bat, and stay in the zone. We stay in the zone, we hit the ball hard, so we just got to, like I said, come back tomorrow and if we get those opportunities again, just hit the ball, stay in the middle of the field and hit the ball hard.”
Jordan Weems struck out three around a two-out HBP in the seventh, and returned to the hill in the eighth and he struck out a fourth batter in the eighth before Davey Martinez got lefty Joe La Sorsa out of the ‘pen. La Sorsa hit a batter, but got the second and third outs.
Amos Willingham gave up a single and a walk in the top of the ninth, but stranded both of the runners he had reach base to keep it a one-run game.
Members of the B-pen kept it a one-run game through eight and a half, but the offense did not come through in big spots, finishing the night 1 for 9 with six left on base.
“I talk about it all the time,” Davey Martinez said after the game, “... driving in that run from third with less than two outs, we got to find a way to do that. It’s a different ballgame if we do that, but I could talk about Jake, how well he did today, and then La Sorsa, Weems, and Willingham, all of them came in and did their jobs. So, we got to come back tomorrow and try to score some runs.”
BACK PAGE - Thaddeus Ward To IL:
Thaddeus Ward, 26, and a Rule 5 pick this past winter, who’s managed to stay in the majors to this point in spite of some spotty results, landed on the 10-Day IL on Monday with right shoulder inflammation after 20 appearances and 30 1⁄3 IP out of the bullpen (for the starter-turned-reliever) with the Nationals, who are trying to keep the 2018 5th Round draft pick by Boston’s Red Sox, and are using him out of the ‘pen to try to get him through the season so they don’t have to offer him back to the Sox as per the rules of the Rule 5 Draft.
Ward has a 7.12 ERA, a 6.95 FIP, 24 walks, 26 Ks, seven homers allowed, and a .234/.368/.451 line against thus far this season, but with Tommy John surgery in his past, the Nationals will not take any risks with his health/throwing arm.
“I talked to him and asked if he was okay,” manager Davey Martinez explained after Ward’s move to the IL was announced. “He did mention he felt a little stiff, more than usual. So to play it safe — he’s had arm issues before — we just said, ‘We’re just going to put you on the IL.’ He talked to [Nationals’ Director of Athletic Training] Paul [Lessard]. He’s got a little bit of inflammation in his right shoulder, so he’ll get some time to kind of rehab and get him going again.”
Asked if the issue might be a blessing in disguise, which gets Ward, who’s thrown a limited number of innings post-surgery (2020), a breather, and time to work on some of the things which have caused him issues thus far in 2023, Martinez said you never want anyone to go through an injury, but there is an opportunity.
“I don’t ever want anybody going on the IL, but we can use it to his advantage,” the skipper explained, “... and our advantage as well, to kind of get him going, get him right. And like I said, you can’t really know if it’s really affecting him until he has the time off, and he comes back and we see how he’s doing then. So we’re going to use this time wisely.
“We’ll strengthen him again, get him strong, get that shoulder strong and then build him up again.”
Ward, for his part, didn’t want to use the shoulder inflammation as an explanation for his so-far-sub-par results.
“I think the performance and the health are completely separate things,” Ward said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman on Monday afternoon.
“Everybody knows I haven’t been pitching well, but I think that’s totally separate from the shoulder inflammation that’s going on.”
He too said he would use the time off wisely, to make necessary adjustments and heal up.
“I took [Tommy John] as a positive to clean up a lot of other health stuff, like how I treated my body and eating the right way and all that kind of stuff,” he said, as quoted on MLB.com.
“This is just another opportunity to kind of work on a lot of different things and kind of clean up some things that need to be worked on.”
Random Anecdote Corner:
Davey Martinez on Josiah Gray actually being shocked to be named an All-Star:
“He was genuinely shocked, he really was. And as I always do, I had him address the team, and he got really emotional, and he thanked his teammates. Without them — he said, ‘Without you guys, this probably wouldn’t be possible.’ He said, ‘I represent all you guys,’ so it’s awesome.”
Washington’s 6-3 road trip to San Diego, Seattle, and Philadelphia got the club within one game of .500 away from home this season (20-21). Taking 2 of 3 in Philly got the Nationals their third straight series win, something they hadn’t done since 2021, and something they hadn’t done on the road since 2017.
Now, however, Davey Martinez was back in the nation’s capital, where they were 14 games under .500 so far in 2023 at 13-27.
“We played hard this whole trip, so let’s play a little bit better at home,” the club’s sixth-year skipper said after the finale with the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. “I asked them that. If we play a little bit better at home, we’ll do some good things. But like I said, they’re playing hard. It shows character what they did today, [after yesterday’s 19-4 loss], come back and keep plugging away, and come back and win in a game like this against a really good team.
“That group is special, it really is,” he added. “We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep playing hard and come back tomorrow and try to go 1-0.”
The fact that they won three straight series on the road wasn’t lost on the relatively young ballclub.
“They were jacked up after the game,” Martinez said. “They kind of calmed down a little bit right now, but they were really excited, they really were. Like I said, we’re going to play hard. That’s the only thing I asked those guys, to play hard for 27 outs, and we’ll see how they end up at the end and they’ve been doing that.”
How does he make sense of the club’s home/road split so far this season?
“If I knew the answer to that, then we’d be playing a lot better at home,” Martinez said.
“We’ve got to get home and start playing better at home. I don’t know the reason for that, because these guys are the same at home as they are on the road.
“But we definitely have to play better at home.”
The goal going into this homestand, the manager said, is to finish strong before the All-Star Break.
“I just want them to compete and play hard. They’ve done it so far this [season], so don’t let up now,” he said. “I know we’re getting closer to this All-Star Break, but let’s finish up strong before the break ... and then go have a few days, and get ready to come back and get going and have a better second half.”