IRVIN STEPS UP:
In four starts back following a skipped turn in Washington’s rotation during which he and the Nationals’ pitching coach Jim Hickey worked to straighten a few things out with his mechanics Jake Irvin has shown marked improvement.
In 22 2⁄3 innings pitched in those outings, the 26-year-old right-hander posted a 3.18 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, six walks, 17 Ks, and a .241/.290/.325 line against.
“It’s been really good,” manager Davey Martinez said of Irvin’s post-skip run, after the righty tossed six strong against the red-hot Cincinnati Reds on an efficient 89 pitches last week.
“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.”
And his efficiency in the fourth of those four outings was a big step in the Nats’ skipper’s mind.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. It was awesome,”Martinez said.
“He worked ahead. He threw strikes. His breaking ball was really good, he could throw it for a strike when he needed to, but today I thought it was a step in the right direction for him, it really was.”
“I’m just trying to keep us in the ballgame, give us a chance to win every time out,” Irvin said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, channeling some real Crash Davis-worthy humility in his post-start scrum.
“That’s the biggest thing, for sure. I’ve taken steps forward every single time.”
His fifth start post-skipper turn was another step forward. Irvin tossed three scoreless to start, as the Nats jumped out to an 8-0 lead, then he returned to the mound in the top of the fourth inning, after a 1-hour, 17-minute rain delay, and struggled at first, giving up a leadoff walk and a two-run home run in the first two matchups, before he retired three of the next four batters to get out of the inning.
Irvin worked around a two-out double in the fifth as well, before he was done for the day in a 79-pitch outing in which he gave up five hits, two walks, and two runs in what ended up being an 8-3 win for the home team.
“Jake set the tone,” Martinez said in his post game press conference.
“We talked about how much he’s improved. Once again today he pounded the strike zone.
“His fastball was electric, breaking ball was awesome. So when he throws strikes, he’s good, he’s really good.”
It was the fifth straight outing, and sixth in the last seven in which the rookie starter has now given up 3 ER or fewer.
“Right now it’s all about throwing strikes, getting ahead, working ahead,” Martinez said.
“So for him that’s been the key. Staying focused, not letting the big innings get to him, just getting to the next hitter, so he’s been good. We talked a lot about just giving him that time off, and trying to fix some things for him. And it’s what he’s done in those 10-12 days that’s helped him become what he is right now.”
Martinez and his staff had a difficult decision to make as the rain delay dragged on, but in the last moments before they would have told Irvin they were done, they got word on the restart time.
“We have a system that we kind of go by,” Martinez explained. “We get guys up every 20 minutes, let them throw about 8-10 pitches in the bullpen. After about an hour and 10 minutes, then we know we have to pull the plug. We were right on the cusp. He got up twice. We were right about 20 minutes. They called and said we’re going to start here in about 20 minutes. He was good. He was adamant about going back out. He felt good, and he did a great job.”
“It basically feels like I threw a complete game,” Irvin told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, after he picked up just five swinging strikes, but got 17 called strikes on the afternoon.
“With the amount of time that you spend mentally locked in, it drains you out just as much as it does physically. I’m gonna get some good rest tonight.”
“The last pitch he threw,” Martinez recalled, “he came in the dugout and he said, ‘I’m done.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re done.’ But what a great job he did.”