WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 2-0, on Thursday afternoon. Here are five observations from the game...
1. Davey Martinez dealt with his first strategic decision of the season in the bottom seventh inning. Max Scherzer was due up third, the Nationals trailed by a run, and he had 93 pitches on his ledger. Trevor Rosenthal warmed in the bullpen. After two strikeouts started the inning, Scherzer came to the plate to hit for himself.
That was a chance for Matt Adams to come off the bench to face a right-handed pitcher. Rosenthal could have entered the game for Scherzer to pitch the eight, the inning he was signed to pitch.
Instead, Scherzer struck out against Seth Lugo. Warming Rosenthal then not using him -- and not dispatching Adams -- led to a situation where Martinez did not use his two best relievers -- Rosenthal and Sean Doolittle -- in a 2-0 loss on Opening Day. Adams came the plate in the ninth against New York closer Edwin Diaz. He struck out.
“We had six outs to get a run,” Martinez said. “I knew that spot would come up again, I was trying to have Matty to face either Diaz or [Jeurys] Familia if we get to that spot. He was doing good. I communicate with Max, day in and day out, during games and he looked good. I was trying to give him a chance to stay in the game, win the game, and I knew we had six outs with our top guys coming up to hit.”
Getting Rosenthal up in the bullpen also counts as an appearance for Rosenthal when it comes to tracking the team does. It won’t be on his stat line, but piles into the workload for a player coming off Tommy John surgery. The Nationals are off Friday. That means Rosenthal should be available again Saturday. However, it also means Rosenthal most likely will pitch only one game in the opening series because he’s not in a place to pitch back-to-back games at this point of the season following the 2017 surgery.
2. Jacob deGrom versus Scherzer went as expected. The most recent National League Cy Young winners stifled the opposing offenses. Scherzer allowed two runs -- a solo homer to Robinson Cano with two outs in the first and a second when Matt Grace allowed a single in relief -- stuck out 12 and gave up just two hits. DeGrom set a major-league record with his 30th consecutive start of allowing three runs or fewer. He gave up none in his six innings Thursday. DeGrom also struck out 10.
Scherzer threw 109 pitches. He threw 109 or more pitches in 11 of his 33 starts last season. Opening Day 2018, Scherzer threw 100 pitches in six innings. That’s a hefty first day of work.
“I felt like I was executing pitches,” Scherzer said. “The only pitch I didn’t quite execute the way I wanted to was the cutter. It was good but I wasn’t executing it exactly the way I wanted to. Every other pitch I felt like I was executing it or missing the spot that I wanted to so from that standpoint this is a great first start for me to go out there again and make a little adjustment on the cutter and go out there and compete again.”
3. The bottom of the third inning brought a scenario spring training work was supposed to take care of. Victor Robles doubled, Adam Eaton singled, the Nationals had first and third against deGrom. Trea Turner at the plate, the Nationals down, 1-0, most of the infield back, third baseman Jeff McNeil even with the bag.
Options abounded: bunt (Turner said he considered a safety squeeze). Push a grounder to the right side. Sacrifice fly. And, of course, any form of hit would do. Turner struck out while swinging vigorously at high fastballs -- a deGrom staple. Anthony Rendon hit a grounder to third, which was thrown to second for an out, then to home. Robles didn’t commit to running, then was hung up and the second out of a double play.
“That’s just a young base-running mistake by him,” Martinez said. “We talked about it, he knows just to run, stay out of the double play. We have Soto coming up if he runs into an out, but we have a man on first and second.”
Robles readily admitted his error.
“To be honest, I got a little confused,” Robles said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But we'll learn from this. We'll get better and move on.”
Executing in those situations is precisely what the Nationals focused on in spring training. They butchered their first chance to capitalize.
4. An interesting thing to watch this season: What happens behind Turner when he runs. Turner stole second base in the first inning. Rendon made an out, which brought up Juan Soto with two outs and first base open. DeGrom threw Soto one strike. Ryan Zimmerman hit the ball hard, but lined out to third.
So, keep an eye on how Soto is pitched in situations like that. Martinez surely anticipated the scenario. It will be up to Zimmerman to deter the strategy.
5. Martinez contended Turner hitting second would not limit his stolen base chances. Turner wasn’t as sure, and his history showed him more prone to run from the leadoff spot than any other, including second. He stole three bases Thursday to become just the seventh player on record to do so Opening Day. No player has stolen four.
“The situation, scoreboard, what's going on, how do I feel, if I'm reading him right and if this is a good time to go,” Turner said of his decisions to run. “Just trying to get in scoring position for those guys behind me. They can really hit. And they're pretty patient hitters, so that gives me a chance to steal. Hopefully, next time we can put some runs up.”
Turner led the National League last season with 43 steals. Martinez wants him to run run 70, 80, 90 times this season. Thursday was a productive start: three stolen base attempts in two times on base.
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