WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-3, in 10 innings Friday night to move to 6-6. Here are five observations from the game...
1. The easy nights are few.
Anthony Rendon’s eighth-inning home run -- his second of the game -- tied the game after the bullpen gave away the lead. Howie Kendrick’s one-out double in the ninth put him in scoring position, but Adam Eaton’s strikeout left him there. Then the bullpen blew it. Again.
Patrick Corbin’s dominant outing was undone by the relievers. Handed a 2-1 lead after Corbin deftly moved through the Pirates’ lineup for seven innings, Tony Sipp and Kyle Barraclough forked over the lead.
Sipp allowed two hits. One of which was a single to right field with a runner on first. Eaton chose to throw in the air all the way to third, allowing the batter to end up on second. Had Eaton thrown to the cutoff man instead, the Nationals would have a first-and-third situation with one out. His throw setup two runners in scoring position. A single would score both. Which is exactly what happened when Barraclough entered.
A troubling stat for Barraclough this season: all seven of his inherited runners have scored. Both runners he inherited last season when pitching for Miami scored. And, once again, this would have been a spot for the Trevor Rosenthal the Nationals thought they were getting.
Sean Doolittle rolled into some trouble in the ninth, too. A one-out triple brought the infield in. Ryan Zimmerman stabbed a ground ball to his right, threw home, and picked up the out at the plate. Doolittle finished the inning with a high fastball for a strikeout of Erik Gonzalez in an eight-pitch at-bat to keep the score tied.
Matt Grace allowed a leadoff double in the 10th. His throwing error when handling a sacrifice bunt attempt put runners on first and third. It also ended his night. Justin Miller replaced him, recorded an out on a grounder, then gave up a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Colin Moran on a center-cut 0-2 pitch. Miller has allowed five home runs in 6 ⅓ innings this season and will be placed on the 10-day disabled list because of a lower back strain.
“It's been affecting me since New York, I guess,” Miller said. “That's when I saw the drop in velo and of course like when the ball's flattening out it's not gonna have late life so something was going on and I couldn't really figure out what it was. I've been with the training staff trying to figure it out, but there's something in my back right now that is not allowing me to get through my pitches.”
The bulllpen is far from fixed following its reasonable work in Philadelphia. Miller was throwing 91 mph most of the time Friday. His fastball averaged 94 mph last season. Sipp’s ERA is 18.00. Barraclough’s ERA is completely misleading because the runs he allows go on someone else’s line. Rosenthal can’t be used when it matters. Only Doolittle is close to a sure thing.
“We got to get this one thing ironed out,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We’re playing really well. I can’t speak enough about how Corbin is pitching, how all our position players are playing, really well. Defense is good. Our base-running has been good. We got to iron out that bullpen, we got to iron out the back end of the games. We can’t run Doolittle out there for six outs, five outs, every day.”
2. Corbin let out an elated yell following his 11th strikeout Friday night. The third start version of Corbin was the one seen last season in Arizona. Slider, curveball, sneaky fastball. Lots of diving pitches, lots of confused hitters.
Final line: seven innings pitched, one earned run, one walk, 11 strikeouts on 106 pitches. Corbin’s ERA dropped to 2.84. His outing puffed up the bullpen following a day off. He even picked up two hits and knocked in a run.
“I thought my slider was really good today and was able to mix my fastball in and out,” Corbin said.
Corbin struck out 10 or more just four times last season on his way to 246 strikeouts.
Martinez said pregame the Nationals are working under a general premise of winning game one of a series, then trying to win the series. Corbin’s outing put them in great standing to do so until the bullpen came in.
3. Nothing new on Trea Turner.
His fractured right index finger continues to be wrapped in bandages varying in size. He’s never had a cast. Sometimes, the wrap is light. Others, it’s a bit more beefy, keeping his index finger tethered to his middle finger. Turner politely declined to talk about his injury Friday.
He’s traveled with the team and continues his cardio work by running sprints in the outfield.
“He’s doing everything he can to get better,” Martinez said. “There’s no timetable.”
4. Sipp is fine, according to Sipp and Martinez. Sipp came out of the game Wednesday after just one batter. His preference was to stay in -- especially following an out.
Sipp normally pitches nine live innings -- not counting bullpen sessions or simulated games -- at spring training. He threw three after signing late with the Nationals.
He thought what was called “shoulder stiffness” on Wednesday was normal for this stage. Typically, he would have back-to-back appearances in spring, as well as a chance to pitch across two innings. He never did this year.
So, in short, Sipp said Wednesday’s exit was nothing to worry about health-wise, proven out by his return to the mound in the eighth inning Friday night. However, his results weren’t great. Sipp allowed two hits and two earned runs in ⅓ of an inning.
5. Max Scherzer will pitch Sunday. He was scheduled to pitch Saturday, but the Nationals moved him back a day as a precaution.
“If it wasn’t April 12, I think things would be a lot different,” Scherzer said. “And when you also consider the off-days we have here. I mean, literally it’s just [Anibal Sanchez] and I flipping days. No one else in the rotation gets moved. Everybody else stays on schedule. It really was for them an easy decision, because there wasn’t going to be any other moves that needed to be made.
“If they needed me to pitch [Friday], I could. I can. But I understand. Hey, we’re early in the season. Be smart. You’re dealing with a leg injury. Leg injuries can turn into shoulder problems in a heartbeat. So I respect what I have here, and I understand where they’re coming from.”
Scherzer was hit by a comebacker on the right ankle Sunday in New York. He remained in the game at the time, but dealt with stiffness afterward. Scherzer threw from flat ground Wednesday, then a bullpen session Thursday. He played long-toss Friday.
So, Sanchez pitches Saturday, Scherzer on Sunday and Stephen Strasburg -- following a six-day break -- will pitch April 16.
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