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Nationals squeak past Giants, survive yet another careening night from the bullpen

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Nationals squeak past Giants, survive yet another careening night from the bullpen

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants, 9-6, Wednesday night to move to 8-8. Here are five observations from the game...

1. We have data for spin rates, ball drag, swing paths and everything possible in baseball.

Most decisions are predicated on that information. Who to pitch, who to hit, when to do so.

Matt Adams and Davey Martinez didn’t bother with the data in the seventh inning Wednesday. Adams has a career .593 OPS against left-handed pitchers. It’s the reason he’s a bench/platoon player instead of a full-time first baseman. But, Martinez let Adams face left-hander Travis Bergen, who came into the game with a 1.69 ERA. Adams hit a three-run homer off Bergen to blow the game open.

Kurt Suzuki also homered in the seventh.

The bullpen barely took the seven-run lead across the finish line to back Jeremy Hellickson’s effective start (5 ⅔ innings, two earned runs). It, of course, was a bumpy ride to get there. Austen Williams started the ninth inning with a 9-2 lead. He faced four hitters, retired none, allowed two home runs and was yanked when San Francisco pulled to within 9-6, forcing the Nationals to use Kyle Barraclough and to warm up closer Sean Doolittle.

Barraclough picked up an out, then was removed. Doolittle entered a game he never anticipated coming into. Buster Posey hit his first pitch for a double. Brandon Belt walked, bringing the tying run to the plate. Brandon Crawford struck out. Evan Longoria popped out on a 3-2 pitch. Mercifully, it was over just short of disaster.

“That happened really fast,” manager Davey Martinez said. “You guys saw it; everybody saw it. The biggest -- to have to use Doolittle up seven there in the ninth, was tough. We have to close out the game.”

Barraclough was used for an out to keep Doolittle’s pitch count down in hopes of using him against Thursday. Barraclough threw just four pitches. But, the mere fact they had to enter the game was damning.  

“In that situation, as well as things were going in that game, when you pitch in the closer’s role you can never really check out and you have to stay in the game mentally,” Doolittle said. “If something does happen, often times it happens really quick and it snowballs.”

Patrick Corbin is on the mound Thursday afternoon to chase the series win. The bullpen has a short night to move on.

2. Adjustments for Juan Soto in Season Two are ongoing.

The league’s pitchers have decided to not throw him fastballs. Soto came into Wednesday seeing fastballs just 42.9 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs. That’s a league low.

Along with a reduction in the fastballs thrown to him, the number of pitches in the strike zone to Soto has also declined significantly, down to 36.3 percent from 43.6 percent in 2018. And, his strikeouts are up accordingly. His K-percentage has risen from 20.0 percent to 28.8 percent.

Coming into Wednesday, Soto struck out 19 times this season. Of those, 12 were against off-speed pitches. Half of those were against changeups.

So, the book on him is clear: do not throw a fastball.

What did Giants starter Jeff Samardzija throw Soto on the second pitch in his first-inning at-bat? A fastball. Where did it land? In the right field seats.

That yin-and-yang for Soto is something to keep an eye through the season. Will he take walks when watching off-speed out of the zone? Will he not miss the rare fastball?

The league was expected to push back in Soto’s second season. It has. Soto needs to figure out how to best handle it.

3. Martinez modified his lineup Wednesday for multiple reasons.

He wanted Adams on the field against Samardzija. Adams came into the game with a 1.732 OPS against the Giants right-hander in 17 at-bats. He wanted Howie Kendrick in the lineup somewhere -- Kendrick hit his third home run in his 18th at-bat this season when he came to the plate in the first inning Wednesday. He also wanted Victor Robles to stay in the No. 9 spot.

The lineup:

Adam Eaton
Anthony Rendon
Juan Soto
Matt Adams
Howie Kendrick
Kurt Suzuki
Wilmer Difo
Jeremy Hellickson​​​​​​​
Victor Robles

So, mark Game 16 as Martinez’s first notable deviation in lineup structure. He wanted a set lineup during the season as often as possible. Wednesday was a change because of the opposing pitcher, Brian Dozier’s struggles (and injured toe following a foul ball Tuesday night), and Kendrick’s hot hitting

4. Dozier fouled a ball off his front foot Tuesday night. He had the blood-filled toe drained Wednesday, which removed him from the opening lineup. Martinez said Dozier was available to play late, if need be.

Dozier seemed undeterred by the toe issue. He took early batting practice on the field with Ryan Zimmerman. He later took grounders during regular batting practice.

Dozier tried to play through a knee problem much of last season. His work today despite the toe injury appeared as much a statement as preparation. It was enough to show Martinez he could enter as a defensive replacement for Kendrick in the eighth inning.

Martinez stopped short of using the “P” word -- platoon -- when discussing Dozier and Kendrick pregame.

“We’d love for him to play every day, but we have to take care of Howie,” Martinez said. “He’s going to play. But then again, I have to make sure he’s with us for the duration of the season.”

5. Hellickson has an interesting run going since joining the Nationals: In his 21 starts, he’s allowed three or fewer runs in 20 of them.

Hellickson doesn’t last long. He’s pitched more than six innings once. Hellickson’s starts also are not filled with bliss. Wednesday he walked four, struck out none, yet allowed just two earned runs.

However, he has kept the Nationals competitive in most of his starts as the No. 5 starter.

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Nationals, Sánchez blasted by Orioles in another mediocre performance

Nationals, Sánchez blasted by Orioles in another mediocre performance

WASHINGTON --  The Nationals are 4-6 following a Friday night drubbing by the Baltimore Orioles, a team not expected to be remotely good in 2020.

The season’s fluctuations are under way. The Nationals went 1-4, looked listless and were charged with not having fun. They won three in a row to complete the push for an even record. They lost Max Scherzer and two games since. Friday night was particularly abhorrent. They were smacked 11-0 by an Orioles team which had 19 hits. It could have been worse.

“This is just one of those games where you’ve got to put it behind you as quick as you can and come back tomorrow and regroup and go get ‘em tomorrow,” Davey Martinez said. “This game was about as lopsided as I’ve seen in a long time.”

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Aníbal Sánchez has problems. His ERA is 7.84. It, like the Friday night score, could be worse.

He shrugged off his poor start to open the season. Sánchez was more irritated Friday -- back on the mound 12 days after the first time. When he walked Renato Núñez on a 3-2 pitch which wasn’t close to a strike, he yelled, then left the mound to pace. Pitching coach Paul Menhart came to visit.

Recall last year. Sánchez opened with a 5.91 ERA across April and May. He was much better in the following two months, righting his season and helping the Nationals from their malaise. But time for a course correction this season is limited.

“I think the situation that happened last year was [me] out of routine,” Sánchez said. “This is only something you have to handle no matter what. … This is going to happen this year early in the season. I think when you’re out of routine, it’s really hard to see what’s going on. Right now I can see the difference between the games with fans and no fans and all the kinds of things. A little bit something in your mind. At the end, I think I need to figure out how to control my game in all those situations.”

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Sánchez has made 16.7 percent of his starts (and the team is through the same amount of its season). Only nine remain. Reacting to two starts in normal times is not recommended. However, these are not normal times. Much like the offense -- which failed to score for the first time this season -- Sánchez needs to quickly gather himself. However, Trea Turner doesn’t feel the squeeze is on them yet.

“If we do, it’s just going to snowball on us,” Turner said. “There’s no point to. I think it’s more perspective -- more teams are in the playoffs this year, so you’ve got more room for error. More opportunities to make up ground. That being said, it is a shorter season. We need to take advantage of every game because we’re playing some good ball clubs. They kicked our butts [Friday]. Got to be ready each and every day.”

The Nationals play two more games during the weekend against Baltimore. Austin Voth starts Saturday, Stephen Strasburg returns Sunday. Friday opened a 13-games in 13 days stretch after the jumbled beginning of days off and postponements. Martinez said they were happy to finally be starting what a season traditionally feels like. Day after day, game after game. Time and geography lost to the rhythm of playing.

But, the Nationals entered the game 29th in Major League Baseball in runs, then failed to score. The only team to score fewer is the coronavirus-riddled St. Louis Cardinals who have played five games this season. Their starting staff is yet to anchor them. The bullpen has an injury to its most important offseason signing and Sean Doolittle is ineffective. Fixable problems, but problems to be sure.

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Phillie Phanatic returns favor to Bryce Harper with custom jacket

Phillie Phanatic returns favor to Bryce Harper with custom jacket

Despite only being in year two of his 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper's love for the Phillie Phanatic is well-known.  

On Friday, the team mascot returned the favor by showing some love to Bryce Harper with his new custom suit jacket.

Let’s all take a walk down memory lane since it is #FlashbackFriday and relive the moment when Bryce Harper took his love for Phanatic to the next level on Opening Day with this look: a custom olive-colored suit with pictures of team mascot Phanatic scattered throughout the inside. 

This is just a reminder to find someone who loves you as much as the Phanatic loves Bryce. Or vice versa. A bromance like no other.

Now if the Phillies are smart, they’ll make these suits available for the fans. If they do, there'll be no competition for the best-dressed fan base in the future.

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