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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