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Trea Turner’s two-homer day gives Nationals a walk-off win

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Trea Turner’s two-homer day gives Nationals a walk-off win

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets, 6-5, on Sunday afternoon. Here are five observations from the game...

1. So, about that bullpen. Not great. Sunday brought another lurching journey where a 5-2 lead turned into a 5-5 tie as manager Davey Martinez hopped from reliever to reliever until bringing Sean Doolittle in with one out in the eighth inning in an attempt to stall the mayhem.

Doolittle gave up two hits which put a run each on the ledger of Tony Sipp and Trevor Rosenthal, who preceded Doolittle in the cringe-worthy eighth inning. The runs also tied the game, 5-5, deflating what, to that point, had been a better day at Nationals Park.

Trea Turner immediately flipped that around via a walk-off homer on a 3-2 fastball from Justin Wilson, his second homer of the game and second career walk-off home run providing the Nationals their first win of the season.

Sunday’s bullpen usage was interesting. Rosenthal was in for one batter, no matter the outcome. Doolittle’s first appearance of the season forced him to get five outs. Sipp pitched for the second consecutive day despite barely participating in spring training.

“Knowing that we have an off-day tomorrow, and having dropped the first two games of the series, we were going all-in today,” Doolittle said. “We were pushing our chips to the middle of the table.”

Interesting language for Game 3 of the season.

2. Patrick Corbin’s debut was solid, if not spectacular: six innings, seven hits, two earned runs, two walks, four strikeouts. Corbin threw 94 pitches.

Half of the 18 outs Corbin recorded were on fly balls. That’s uncommon for him. His 2018 fly ball percentage was 27.2. For his career, just 29.2 percent of the outs Corbin has recorded were on fly balls.

Sunday was a good day to suddenly turn into a fly ball pitcher. A brisk wind blew straight in. It rescued Corbin in the first inning when Mets cleanup hitter J.D. Davis hit a deep fly ball to left field which appeared a sure home run before landing quietly in Juan Soto’s glove. Davis threw his hands up in disbelief. Corbin headed for the dugout following a clean inning.

“I just wanted to go out there and give us a chance to win after those first two games,” Corbin said. “I’m not saying we had to win this, but I just wanted to go out there and do my best. Defense played great behind me. Yan [Gomes] called a great game.”

3. We mentioned this in spring training: watching Brian Dozier operate at second quickly showed what the Nationals were lacking in recent years.

Daniel Murphy’s bat was a force for two seasons. His third year was flushed by offseason knee surgery and subsequent problems moving an already rigid frame. Last season, the Nationals turned one 4-6-3 double play with Murphy playing second.

Sunday, Dozier started a crucial 4-6-3 double play with a glove flip to Trea Turner. A run scored, but the double play squashed what could have been a more damaging inning. Corbin picked up two outs on his 85th pitch because of Dozier’s slick play a day after Dozier saved a run with a diving stop up the middle.

“He made a play the other day, that diving play,” Turner said. “After that, I kind of expect anything from him. So I was ready for it.”

4. An early discussion is kicking around the press box -- and elsewhere -- when it comes to Turner in the No. 2 spot. And it’s about bunting.

Go back to the opener. Turner had seemingly the perfect situation to safety squeeze. Elite speed, Victor Robles, was on third base. The third baseman was even with the bag. The Nationals trailed 1-0, runners were on first and third, nobody out. Jacob deGrom pitching.

Why is this one of the few situational places for Turner to bunt? All of the things outlined above. His speed give him a chance to reach first on a safety squeeze. DeGrom is in the midst of a historical run where he has allowed three runs or less in 30 consecutive starts. Max Scherzer was pitching for the Nationals, so the Mets were likely to be held down, too. In a nutshell, that single run carried heightened value in the perfect situation.

Turner said he looked for the safety squeeze sign. It didn’t come. He thought about it on his own until the count reached 2-0. Then, he was swinging. Fair. He struck out, the Nationals didn’t score.

Move to Sunday. Turner is up against Zack Wheeler in the third inning. First and third, nobody out, elite speed, Robles, on third, trailing 1-0. This is not the same situation because of the opposing pitcher. Odds of a big inning versus Wheeler are significantly higher than deGrom. Turner swung. Hit a three-run homer to elevate him to 6-for-14 lifetime against Wheeler.

Afterward, Turner said he thought about bunting. The Nationals were fortunate he did not.

“It doesn't matter how we win, just as long as we do win,” Turner said.

5. An interesting change in approach came Sunday morning. Martinez said reliever Rosenthal was available the day after making his debut.

Martinez previously said Rosenthal would not pitch in back-to-back games to start his first season since Tommy John surgery. The two spoke Sunday, and Rosenthal told Martinez he felt good after throwing 18 pitches Saturday in his first appearance. Rosenthal recorded no outs and was charged with four earned runs.

Despite a day off and Max Scherzer pitching into the eighth inning in the opener, Martinez’s bullpen was down to Justin Miller, Doolittle and Jeremy Hellickson on Sunday as the only fresh pitchers following multiple appearances by Matt Grace and Kyle Barraclough in the first two games and Wander Suero throwing 31 pitches in the second game.

Rosenthal was supposed to be off-limits, too. That changed when he entered in the eighth inning faced one batter, allowed a hit on the first pitch and was removed. He’s faced five hitters, allowed four hits, walked a batter and given up four earned runs. His ERA remains infinity.



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Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia ranked as the Nationals' top prospects

Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia ranked as the Nationals' top prospects

One of the biggest challenges to major-league front offices and scouting departments of winning organizations is to continue developing prospects into contributing players despite picking low in the draft each year.

The Nationals have finished with a winning record in eight consecutive seasons dating back to 2012, never picking higher than 16th overall. Since drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in 2009 and 2010, Washington has slowly drained its farm system of all the players it acquired while rebuilding in the second half of the 2000s decade.

However, the Nationals have still found a way to replenish its minor-league depth with a couple promising prospects each year. Their farm system has been top-heavy in recent years, but the talent at the top has panned out more often than not.

That once again will be the approach in 2020, as the Nationals only had two players who appeared on the top-100 prospect rankings that were released over the past few weeks.

Carter Kieboom, who will have an opportunity to compete for the starting third base job in Spring Training, came in at 11th (Baseball Prospectus), 15th (Baseball America) and 21st (MLB Pipeline). Joining him on Baseball America’s list (91st) and MLB Pipeline’s rankings (97th) was infielder Luis Garcia. He was unranked by Baseball Prospectus.

Washington gave Kieboom a taste of the big leagues last season, but he struggled to the tune of a .128 batting average with 16 strikeouts and four errors in 11 games. He spent the rest of the season with AAA-Fresno and prepared all offseason to make the switch from his natural position of shortstop over to third base.

“I’m as ready as I possibly can be,” Kieboom said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event. “I think as a player if you get an opportunity to go up there and it doesn’t work out and you get another opportunity to be able to go up there, you can’t really beat that. So I’m really excited, this is the best I’ve ever felt in an offseason.”

On the Baseball America podcast, evaluator Kyle Glaser explained that Kieboom was originally slated at No. 13 but was moved back behind Casey Mize (Detroit Tigers) and Brendan McKay (Tampa Bay Rays) “based on some front-office feedback.” However, Kieboom was ranked 41st by Baseball America in 2019, so the 15th-overall spot still represents a sizeable jump.

Garcia, 19, was a unanimous top-100 prospect last season, ranking as high as 61st and as low as 81st between the three evaluators. He made his first stint at AA-Harrisburg in 2019 and struggled both drawing walks and hitting for power. His .280 on-base percentage was a steep dive from the .336 mark he posted between High-A Potomac and A-Hagerstown the year prior, while he hit just 30 extra-base hit (four homers) in 129 games.

But given his young age, Garcia still presents plenty of upside if he can take a step forward in 2020. Washington sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October and he showed signs of improvement, posting a .276/.345/.382 slash line in 87 plate appearances.

He’s rated as a good fielder, grading out at 60 for both his arm and his glove on the 20-80 scale by MLB Pipeline. Although a natural shortstop, Garcia played 38 games at second base last season and didn’t record a single error. If Trea Turner remains entrenched at short, Garcia will likely be moved over to second long term.

With Kieboom representing the Nationals as the lone consensus top-100 prospect, the Nationals joined the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams with just one consensus top-100 player. The Milwaukee Brewers were the only team with none.

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Nationals' Aaron Barrett says sign stealing 'affects people's lives'

Nationals' Aaron Barrett says sign stealing 'affects people's lives'

Not every Major League Baseball player has a direct path to the show. Some spend a couple years before getting called up, while a large percentage spend five or more seasons in the minor leagues and may not ever make it. 

And if you get called up, there's no guarantee you stay. Few players know the trials of making it to the majors more than Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett, who after getting drafted by Washington in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, spent four years working toward the big-league roster. 

Once Barrett made it, he pitched for two seasons before suffering career-threatening injuries in his throwing arm. He then spent another four years in the minors before his memorable call-up at the end of the 2019 season. 

A baseball player's career is a fragile thing. So when teams like the Astros use technology to steal signs and a number of pitchers fall victim to an unfair advantage, you have an issue where someone's livelihood is being negatively impacted. 

"I think sign-stealing has been part of the game for a long time," Barrett said in an interview with Carol Maloney. "But when you bring technology into it and take it to the next level I think that's a whole other can of worms.

"You are affecting people's lives, there's no doubt about it," he said. 

Barrett points to Kris Medlen, a pitcher who broke out with the Braves in 2012 with a 10-1 record, 1.57 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 138 innings. 

Medlen had multiple surgeries and was out of baseball from 2013-15 and then again from 2016-18. Once he came back on May 4, 2018 with the Diamondbacks, Medlen got the start against the Astros.

He gave up nine hits and seven earned runs over four innings and has not pitched in the majors since. 

"He ended up having to retire after that game because he didn't do well," he said. "You affect people's lives. This is more than just a game, and what I've been through over the last four years has really shown me that."

Much has been said about how the Astros cheated the Dodgers out of a World Series, or the Yankees out of an AL pennant.

But Barrett, thanks to his experiences the last nine years, is focusing on pitchers who were cheated out of a career because the Astros felt the need to take sign-stealing to the next level. 

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