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.
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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