PHILADELPHIA -- First, to the question of the day: Why did Matt Grace pitch to Maikel Franco?
It’s a good question. One posed before Grace’s 93-mph sinker flew out of Citizens Bank Park to give the wheezing Phillies a 4-3 walk-off win Sunday. The outcome is not always indicative of process quality. Here, it probably is.
Grace struck out left-hander Jay Bruce on three pitches. Chewed him up, spit him out, did his job. Franco was next, followed by Adam Haseley, the No. 8 hitter, making his third career start. He’s moot. The pitcher’s spot was next.
Bruce and Franco were the concerns in the inning. Tie game, Fernando Rodney as the day’s closer, Kyle McGowin as the day’s long man, Tony Sipp if another inning needed to be eaten, and Javy Guerra available for any situation.
Yet, Grace faced Franco, who has modest reverse-splits. He hits a bit better against left-handed pitchers during his career -- in a significantly smaller sample size. He is also streaky, and his current trend is pointing upward. Guerra made a lot of sense there. Yet, he never warmed up.
“Matt, he's had some success down there, and Bruce ... he got out,” Davey Martinez said. “And then he had Haseley behind him after Franco, so I like Matt in that spot right there."
Martinez said the sinker was supposed to be down and in (“Up to him is not good,” Martinez said). Grace said he needed to execute better.
So, that covers that, a kind of conk on the head to end an otherwise decent weekend in Philadelphia. The Nationals walked into Sunday with the series won. A seventh-inning rally tied the game. They appeared on the verge of heading into the sweep. Instead, Franco walked it off.
Washington is 30-12 in the last 42 games. It looked like the superior team during the final visit this season to Philadelphia. A five-game series looms in September, but it could be irrelevant.
Next is an off-day, a two-game stop in Baltimore -- where Austin Voth will pitch the opener -- then questions. Will Max Scherzer be ready to come off the injured list to face Atlanta? Will Stephen Strasburg be bumped into that series? Will the Nationals begin the next move in their ascension, by pushing further into the division race?
For now, the Nationals know they have found stability. Even if a curious decision cost them a game Sunday.
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