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Noah Syndergaard shuts down Nationals who spend night in familiar territory


Noah Syndergaard shuts down Nationals who spend night in familiar territory

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-2, Tuesday to fall to 16-25. Here are five observations from the game…

1. The Nationals are nine games under .500, and it’s back to the 2011 schedule listings to find out the last time that happened.

Records show Sept. 8, 2011 as the date and Drew Storen as the losing pitcher. This year’s loser to drop the Nationals to their low point was Jeremy Hellickson. His outing was short, mostly ineffective and repetitive. The night also felt familiar to the offense.

Wilmer Difo’s single in the sixth inning broke up Noah Syndergaard’s no-hitter. Victor Robles hit a two-run homer off Syndergaard -- his third against the Mets’ hard thrower this season -- to produce the runs. Otherwise, three hits, eight strikeouts and just one walk. The Nationals have scored two or fewer runs in 12 games (29.2 percent) this season. Eight of those games were played in May.

2. Start No. 8 for Hellickson made it to the fifth inning, then stalled.

He has made eight starts, four have lasted five innings or fewer. His ERA is 6.00.

Tuesday’s five earned runs were a bit misleading. The Nationals didn’t turn a double play to end the first (more on that below), then Hellickson loaded the bases and allowed a grand slam. His fifth run scored when Matt Grace allowed an inherited runner to cross the plate.

However, Hellickson also need to find a way to be competitive for six innings. It’s not a large ask, even for a back-end rotation pitcher.

Hellickson is making $1.3 million this season. That’s a consumable contract if the Nationals feel they need to make a change. But, who would take his place?

The logical choice is Erick Fedde. But Fedde, who pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings Tuesday, appears to have an effective future in the disastrous bullpen this season.

Which, yet again, is another instance of the Nationals pulling from a thin spot to cover another. Call it the Combover Conundrum.

“For right now, I like what he's doing,” manager Davey Martinez said of Fedde when asked about his future. “The fact, all of a sudden, after the games, he's telling me he feels good. He's not laboring. And I told him, 'We'll see how you feel tomorrow.' He had made comments about being ready to pitch back-to-back days. We'll see about that.”

3. There’s no official record of “plays not made” among all the analytics. If there was, the Nationals would hold a troubling spot on the list.

Tuesday’s non-error error came in the first inning from Wilmer Difo. His throw to first when in line to turn a standard double play pulled Gerardo Parra to the ground. Parra couldn’t hang onto the ball. A replay review showed the runner at first, Robinson Cano, to be safe. No error was charged because the double play can’t be assumed in official scoring.

"That first inning bit us,” Martinez said. “It really did. You're down four, when a double play gets you out of the inning nothing-nothing. Like I've said before, we've got to play clean baseball. We really do. Got to give us a chance. That was a different game (if) we get out of that inning.”

Hellickson gave up a single and a walk to load the bases. Wilson Ramos hit a 1-0 changeup for a two-out grand slam.

The inning should have been over when Difo threw to first. Instead, it went on for a pitcher with little margin for error. The result immediately tilted the game.

“I think I probably rushed it a little too much,” Difo said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I didn’t realize that the runner’s probably not as fast as I expected him to be. I tried to rush the play, and I had more time. But that’s one of those unfortunate things that sometimes happens during a game.”

4. Trevor Rosenthal pitched a bullpen session in Nationals Park on Monday. Martinez said it went well. Rosenthal was sent back to Double-A Harrisburg, where he is currently on a rehabilitation assignment. Rosenthal has pitched one inning for the Senators. He struck out one, picked up a groundout and a fly out. Rosenthal threw 11 pitches, eight strikes.

Monday, his extension was better when throwing in the bullpen.

“Looked like he was a little freer,” Martinez said of Rosenthal’s bullpen session. “Arm angle was up. The biggest thing is he was working on his mechanics. And he looked a lot better. He’s going to go down there and throw an inning [Tuesday] and we’ll see where he’s at.”

Tuesday’s inning was reminiscent of his earlier outings. Rosenthal walked two and threw just 12 strikes among his 26 pitches. He did not allow a run.

Martinez did not suggest a timeline for Rosenthal. Instead, he stressed the need for consistency.

5. More help is on the way.

Trea Turner started a rehabilitation assignment Tuesday with Single-A Potomac. Turner hasn’t played since breaking his right index finger April 2 when he was struck by a pitch.

Turner has taken batting practice, thrown, and taken infield practice for several days. He did so again Tuesday at Nationals Park before heading to Potomac to play shortstop.

“Just let him go out there and really get the feel of the game again,” Martinez said of priorities on the rehab assignment. “Seeing balls off the bat defensively, getting at-bats, just getting back in the swing of playing nine innings.”

Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) participated in infield drills Tuesday. If he feels better, more work will be added. Zimmerman was placed on the injured list April 28.



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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Martinez wasn’t sure postgame Saturday what’s wrong with reliever Kyle Barraclough.

The right-hander’s velocity is down, his slider flat and too true, his results poor. Barraclough left the mound Saturday at dusk with a 6.39 ERA. He’s allowed seven home runs in 25 ⅓ innings this season. Little he has tried has worked. And his time on the team may be short.

Utility infielder Adrian Sanchez will join the team Sunday, according to a source. Sanchez’s likely departure from Double-A Harrisburg was reported Saturday night by Mick Reinhard, who covers the Senators, and noted Sanchez’s early removal from the game.

The question is who will be leaving to make room for him

Barraclough seems the logical choice. He has options remaining, so the Nationals could send him to Triple-A Fresno to try and work things out. They could also place him on the 10-day injured list, then send him on an extended rehabilitation in the minor leagues, as they did with Trevor Rosenthal. At a minimum, Washington will go from an eight-man bullpen to a five-man bench, finally delivering Martinez more versatility at the plate and in the field.

Barraclough and left-hander Tony Sipp were rarely used in the last three weeks. A week passed between appearances for Barraclough from the end of May to the start of June. Sipp pitched Sunday for just the fifth time since May 24.

If the Nationals do remove Barraclough from the roster -- in whatever fashion -- it will be another layer of indictment for their offseason bullpen plan. They acquired Barraclough via trade with Miami for international slot money. He was supposed to pitch the seventh inning on a regular basis, Rosenthal the eighth and Sean Doolittle the ninth. That lineup has been disastrous outside of Doolittle, compromising the entire season.

Rosenthal’s travails are well-documented. He pitched again Saturday, walked the first batter on four pitches, walked the second batter, then allowing a single to load the bases with no outs. He eventually allowed just a run. His ERA is 19.50 following the outing. It’s the first time this season Rosenthal’s ERA is under 20.00.

While trying to fix Rosenthal, and trying to hang on with Barraclough, the Nationals have turned to Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey to handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of Doolittle. Few would have predicted that combination before the season began. Despite the relative concern, no one would have predicted the Nationals’ bullpen to be among the worst in the league for much of the season, but has turned out to be just that.



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Max Scherzer may be the last pitcher to tally 3,000 strikeouts

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Max Scherzer may be the last pitcher to tally 3,000 strikeouts


WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer may be baseball’s final entrant into the 3,000-strikeout club.


Sounds weird to say. The mark is a vaunted one and previously a measuring stick for Hall-of-Fame candidacy. That was before a shift to fewer innings by starters from the time they are young. 

 Friday night, Scherzer climbed into 27th on the all-time list. He passed legacy names Warren Spahn and Bob Feller thanks to another 10-strikeout outing.

“Sweet,” Scherzer said when informed of the movement. “Let’s keep going.”Scherzer is 35 years old, in his 12th season and has 2,585 strikeouts. He’s on pace for 297 total this season -- if he makes his typical 33 starts. Hitting that mark would put him at 2,756 at the end of the year. He would be 24th all-time at that stage and a standard season away from cracking 3,000. Justin Verlander will beat Scherzer to the mark, making Scherzer the 19th pitcher all-time to strikeout 3,000 or more should he get there. CC Sabathia surpassed 3,000 in late May. Sabathia, Verlander and Scherzer could cap the group for the rest of history.

The club’s exclusivity is often overlooked. Twenty-seven players have hit 500 or more home runs. Twenty-three players have 300 or more wins (speaking of marks which are unlikely to be reached again; Scherzer has 164, and, yes, wins are wins).

Among active players with 2,000 or more strikeouts, Clayton Kershaw is the youngest. He’s 31 years old and has struck out 2,342. Recent injuries have derailed what was a clear express path to 3,000. He becomes a free agent in 2022. And Kershaw is a good example of how usage is changing the chances to strike out 3,000.

He has not pitched more than seven innings this season. Part of that is to protect him following his back problems. Another portion is seven innings is the norm. Less is also common. Entering the eighth or ninth is almost unheard of. Only two pitchers have thrown two complete games this season. Twenty pitchers have one or more complete games this season. Last year, no pitcher finished with more than two complete games. Only 13 pitchers threw 200 or more innings. 

Yet, strikeout rates are at an all-time high while innings pitched by starters dips. So, let’s look at extrapolation for a younger pitcher, like Trevor Bauer, who is operating in this new era and will do so going forward.

Bauer is 28 years old. He’s struck out 1,035 batters. A decade more of 200 strikeouts per season gets him there -- narrowly. But, the problem for Bauer, like others alluded to above, is he rarely pitches into the eighth inning. Two of his 15 starts this season have gone a full eight innings. Only three have lasted more than seven. Three others have lasted less than six. Most often he pitches six to seven innings. He’s never thrown more than 190 innings in a season.

Let’s call it a 6 ⅔ innings for his average outing going forward. He strikes out 1.1 batters per inning this year. He’s never made more than 31 starts in the season. So, give him 28 starts per year for the next 10 years. That gives Bauer 205 strikeouts per season, on average, and discounts any future regression (which is likely). Together, Bauer could crack 3,000 strikeouts in his age-38 season. Any steps back -- a season of 21 starts because of injury, a reduction in innings on average, his strikeout totals reducing in the typical fashion of a pitcher in his mid-30s -- would cost him his slim chance.

In between Kershaw and Bauer are a variety of 30-something pitchers on the downside of their careers. Jon Lester is 35. He has 2,259 strikeouts. Cole Hamels is also 35. He’s at 2,498. Felix Hernandez has struck out 2,501. He’s 35 years old and left a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Tacoma early on Friday because of fatigue. Zack Greinke is 35. His 2,520 strikeouts give him an outside shot, as does his ability to pitch well despite an ongoing reduction in velocity. 

Pitchers of that ilk often found career-extending deals in the past. Now, teams are more likely to pay a younger starter much less instead of being on the hook for $10 million or more for a veteran winding down. Or, if they are signed, it’s only a one- or two-year deal. One guy who has a chance: 30-year-old Stephen Strasburg. His strikeout rate has held during his career -- and into this season. The question, as always, is health. It took Strasburg nine-plus seasons just to hit the midway point (1,554 coming into Saturday’s start).

Scherzer’s path is not in doubt. He will need around 240 strikeouts next season to hit it. Which means be prepared sometime in late August when Scherzer will be checking off another milestone, one which will be a challenge to hit again.