WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets, 5-1, Wednesday to up their record to 17-25. Here are five observations from the game…
1. A peaceful night at Nationals Park. For once.
Patrick Corbin dominated for eight innings, Anthony Rendon went 3-for-4, the Nationals scored early, Sean Doolittle finished the game.
These nights have been rare. Typically, turmoil kicks up in the field or via the bullpen. Not Wednesday. The Mets started little-known Wilmer Font (setting off a social media pun storm) against the Nationals’ biggest offseason investment. After yet again losing a series opener, and with Anibal Sanchez pitching Thursday’s series-ending day game, Corbin’s matchup against Font was crucial. The Nationals owned it.
“It’s great for tonight, but we’ve got to do it consistently,” Howie Kendrick said.
Victor Robles homered. Kendrick drove in two. No gaffes were made in the field. No one second-guessed the manager. They just won.
“When you go out there the top of the first and you put runs up early everybody loosens up,” Davey Martinez said. “We talk about it all the time. Hey, let’s score first. Score first. Even if it’s just a run you know? Just get on top early and we will go from there. We did that today. Everyone was relaxed. I can’t say..they have fun every day, if you watch them they are always laughing joking around, but today they were loose. Robles hits the home run and they were all jumping around. It was just a fun, crispy day.”
2. Corbin has carved his ERA down to 2.91. He’s allowed a run in the last 16 innings on the mound. In short, during this ongoing season of failure, he’s validated the Nationals’ $140 million offseason purchase.
His slider usage Wednesday was extreme -- even for him. Corbin threw 43 sliders, 33 four-seam fastballs, and 24 two-seam fastballs. He threw five curveballs, which are even slower than his sliders. In essence, Corbin threw two pitches Wednesday night to baffle the Mets. His fastball either stayed on its plane or had run. His slider looked just like his fastballs, but were 10 mph slower with a late break.
“We had a great game plan coming in,” Corbin said. “Yan [Gomes] did a good job behind the plate. Mixed some fastballs inside and outside and threw some strikes with the breaking ball mixing in a couple of changeups, some slower breaking balls. Just want to stay out of the middle of the plate. That was something we were able to do tonight.”
This is the formula Corbin has discovered the last two years. It’s not so much in and out or up and down. It’s more making pitches look identical for the majority of their path to the plate. Some are slower, some veer, some stay true. Figuring out which it will be is beguiling the opposing offense.
3. Juan Soto came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth with a .231 batting average. An opposite-field single bumped him to .237.
What’s been happening with Soto since the start of the season? More of the same, really.
Opposing pitchers throw him fastballs 44.1 percent of the time. His zone percentage -- the percentage of pitches he sees inside the strike zone -- is just 37.8. That’s a tiny number. For comparison, Mike Trout’s zone percentage is 41.3. Christian Yelich -- .331 average, .450 on-base percentage and .719 slugging percentage and reigning MVP -- is at 38.3 is seeing more strikes.
So, where are the year-over-year deviations for Soto which have caused his average and OBP to drop? He’s swinging three percent more often at pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s also missing those pitches much more often -- 68.1 to 60.2. Simply, Soto is swinging at pitches outside of the zone more often and instead of fouling them off or punching them into play, he’s missing them. Hence, his K-percentage is up to 28.7 after just 20.0 last season.
4. Kendrick re-entered the starting lineup Wednesday. Dropping him in, and having Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto also in the lineup, helps finally lengthen the lineup again.
Kendrick hit fifth Wednesday. Once Trea Turner returns -- possibly as soon as this weekend -- Kendrick will be bumped to sixth and Victor Robles could we be flipped back to ninth. That puts the catching tandem back to seventh, in front of the pitcher. The 6-9 hitters Wednesday went 0-for-12.
Washington will have to continue to monitor Kendrick’s playing time. But, he should have plenty of windows when either of the first basemen return. Kendrick could play part-time at first as well as part-time at second -- this is known as the original plan. If the Nationals can find a consistent third layer among Brian Dozier, Ryan Zimmerman or Matt Adams, then this struggling lineup will be all the more dangerous. It will also be out of excuses for poor performance.
5. Trevor Rosenthal was back with his big league teammates -- for a day.
Rosenthal went through regular routines with the rest of the bullpen members Wednesday. He shagged fly balls during batting practice and chatted with Martinez and pitching coach Paul Menhart in the outfield. They each mimicked pitching motions at one point.
“He’s coming along,” Martinez said. “For him, it’s continuing to get his reps in.”
Rosenthal is going back to Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday. He hopes to pitch there twice at the end of the week. His return to Nationals Park is not imminent. Rosenthal needs to pitch back-to-backs games, as well as show he can consistently throw strikes before he will be back in Washington’s bullpen.
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