WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 11-8, on Saturday afternoon. Here are five observations from the game...
1. Losing when being outplayed or outmanned is one situation. Losing because of mediocre baseball to open a season after six weeks of spring training focused on the “little things” is another.
Washington is 0-2 after back-to-back losses to the New York Mets, who were well-represented in the stands Saturday at Nationals Park. And the path to the loss was sigh-worthy.
The Nationals balked home a run.
A player was picked off at first.
An error charged to the outfield gifted 90 feet that led to an easy second run following a hit.
A passed ball zipped to the backstop after the pitcher and catcher became crossed up on signs.
The starter didn’t pitch well. The bullpen pitched worse.
In all, Saturday was another careening (very) early ride for the Nationals.
Despite all that, they still had a prime chance to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning when Matt Adams came to the plate to pinch-hit with two outs, the bases loaded and trailing, 8-4. New York countered with right-handed reliever Seth Lugo. Adams swung at the first pitch, watched it drift, drift, drift and eventually land in the glove of Mets right fielder Michael Conforto against the wall in right-center field. Adams put his hands on his helmet, then his hips, following the out.
Summed up the day.
2. Trevor Rosenthal’s debut was one to forget. His first time in a major-league game since Aug. 17, 2017, resulted in a tie game being blown open.
His velocity was good, as Rosenthal hit 100 mph on the radar gun. His location and results? Not so much. He threw 18 pitches. 10 were strikes, and none led to an out.
“I was excited,” Rosenthal said. “It was a good day, a good step forward getting back. But obviously didn't end up how I wanted it to. I felt good.”
Rosenthal faced four batters, allowing three hits and four earned runs after a walk loaded the bases with no one out. One swing from No. 8 hitter J.D. Davis drove in two runs. It also ended Rosenthal’s brief, unsuccessful Nationals debut. Kyle Barraclough replaced him. He balked in a run which was charged to Rosenthal.
The eighth inning began with a 4-4 tie after the Nationals rallied from a 4-1 deficit. It ended with the Mets in front, 8-4.
Matt Grace and Wander Suero combined to allow three more runs in the ninth inning.
3. Juan Soto drew a laugh and launched a catch phrase last season when he was asked how he came out of a mini-slump and answered, “Just keep doing Juan Soto things.” He was back doing Juan Soto things Saturday.
Soto started the day 3-for-3 against Noah Syndergaard. He singled to right, singled to left and doubled to right-center (more on that in a minute). Interesting is not just how he sprayed the ball around, something the Nationals became accustomed to last season. It’s the pitches he did it against.
Soto struck out twice Thursday against changeups from Jacob deGrom. Two of his three hits Saturday against Syndergaard were against changeups. This is an indicator of how fast he adjusts to how the opposition tries to get him out.
Soto’s “double” was simply a ground ball through the middle he turned into a double by sprinting as soon as he hit it.
Lots of “Juan Soto things” on Saturday among the few highlights for the Nationals.
4. What’s fun about prospects? Potential. They arrive with the best assumed since no body of work exists to proves otherwise. Placing Victor Robles in center field enables the Nationals to use their top prospect on a daily basis. He is laden with potential. Robles is also rapidly finding out the challenges that come with center field defense in the major leagues.
Jeff McNeil’s first-inning shot off the center field wall became a triple when Robles decided to jump -- though he didn’t have to -- to catch it. Robles tracked back to measure his steps before jumping into the wall. The other option was to beat the ball to the spot, which is what the Nationals teach as opposed to “drifting” toward a presumed landing area.
Robles found more trouble in the second when he broke in on Pete Alonso’s line drive to center. It’s unlikely a perfect read would have allowed Robles to catch the ball -- it was hit too hard. However, his read was wrong. Robinson Cano followed with a gentle fly ball to center in the next at-bat. Robles broke back, presumably concerned about his prior misread, before settling under the ball to catch it. He is clearly uncomfortable in center field in Nationals Park at this point.
“He's going to get better,” Davey Martinez said. “You've got to remember he's 21 years old and he's playing in the big leagues. I've been there. I know the struggle. He's going to get better. He talks about it and he wants to get better. Just a case where instead of breaking back he came straight up before and the ball was hit hard. I like his intensity. I like the way he's swinging the bat. And he's going to get better out there.”
In related news, Michael A. Taylor remains in Florida rehabilitating a sprained left knee and hip. There was a line of thought in spring training that Taylor could play early since the organization was emphasizing defensive runs saved this season. If Taylor played, Robles would receive more time to learn, and an opportunity to play when Adam Eaton received a day off, before eventually moving into the lineup on a more consistent basis. Taylor’s injury eliminated that option. Which put Robles into a defensive situation where he is learning live. The process has found multiple bumps in the first two games.
The flip side? He also homered and singled Saturday.
5. Not pretty in the top of the first. Stephen Strasburg allowed three earned runs -- which were partially his fault. A single against the shift with a runner on first -- otherwise a standard ground out -- started the mayhem. Michael Conforto reached first, Alonso zoomed to third from first. Trouble for the Nationals was no one was covering third in a timely manner. Strasburg eventually made it there, Robles’ throw got away and Conforto moved to second. It went as E-8, though Strasburg arriving to the bag late caused a delay on the throw which would have been caught by most position players. Robles probably should have just held the ball.
All spring, the Nationals harped on being better at the “little things” this season. That play was yet another early example of them not doing so often in the first two games.
The day as a whole was mediocre for Strasburg: six innings, seven hits, four earned runs, two walks, eight strikeouts. Strasburg threw 96 pitches, 62 strikes.
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- Learning Curve: Soto and Robles on Opening Day
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