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'Insane' pitching leads Nats again

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'Insane' pitching leads Nats again

He's been the Nationals' No. 4 starter, technically speaking, since Opening Day. There is nothing about Edwin Jackson, however, that resembles a No. 4 starter.

Fourth starters don't boast a 2.91 ERA in late-June. Fourth starters don't boast a 1.04 WHIP. Fourth starters don't have seven consecutive quality starts.

And fourth starters don't carry a perfect game into the fifth inning and a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning as Jackson did Saturday night during a 3-1 victory over the Orioles.

"That's insane," closer Tyler Clippard said. "It makes us smile. ... I just can't imagine what those other teams are thinking when Edwin is our fourth guy. It's a joke. He's probably the No. 1 starter on more than half the teams in the league."

Actually, Clippard is spot-on with that assessment. There are 15 major-league rotations right that do not include one starter with a sub-3.00 ERA. Ergo, Jackson would lead exactly one-half of big-league clubs in ERA at this moment.

And it's not like the Nationals aren't getting anything out of their top three starters. Quite the contrary. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann all claim similar (and in many cases better) stats to Jackson, giving the Nats as formidable a rotation as there is in the game.

There have been only four big-league teams with four starters with sub-3.00 ERAs since the mound was lowered in 1969: the 1972 Orioles, Dodgers and Angels and the 1985 Dodgers. There's still a long way to go, but the 2012 Nationals could put themselves in that elite company.

"It's unbelievable," manager Davey Johnson said. "It tells you just how good they've been going. I'm impressed. Everybody's impressed."

And that doesn't even take into account the back end of the Nationals' bullpen, which has managed to survive injuries to its regular closer, its backup closer and its backup to the backup closer and still shut the door on opposing lineups late in games.

With 2 23 scoreless innings Saturday night in relief of Jackson, the trio of Michael Gonzalez (0.00 ERA), Sean Burnett (1.04 ERA) and Clippard (1.95 ERA) put forth its latest dominant performance.

Burnett has given up three earned runs all season. Clippard hasn't given up a run in 12 consecutive converted save opportunities, a span during which he's surrendered one total hit.

All of which has allowed the Nationals to withstand closer Drew Storen's season-long elbow injury.

"Without Storen, those two guys did an unbelievable job earlier in the ballgame, and certainly they've come in handy here lately," Johnson said. "They've both been workhorses."

Clippard, in fact, has been so effective since taking over closer duties one month ago that his manager no longer believes he needs to return to a setup role once Storen comes off the disabled list around the All-Star break.

"Right now, he's my closer," Johnson said. "And the way he's going, I can't see going to somebody else. They'd have to show me up here probably in a setup role before they have the opportunity to close."

Clippard, who happens to be Storen's roommate and closest friend on the team, has long hoped to be given a chance to pitch the ninth inning. He's now proven an ability not only to handle the pressure that comes with that responsibility, but to thrive under it.

"We're always in tight ballgames," Clippard said. "I think that has to do with our team, and the importance of those late innings. It really helps me bear down and focus."

It also helps to know the man who takes the mound for the first inning every single night is likely to put together a dominant outing, setting up everyone's roles in the bullpen.

Jackson certainly did that on Saturday, retiring the first 12 batters he faced before Adam Jones reached on an error in the top of the fifth. Entering the top of the seventh, Jackson (4-4) hadn't been scored upon and had surrendered only one hit, his pitch count at a very manageable 80.

The 28-year-old right-hander did this despite not feeling like he had his best "stuff" from the moment he began warming up in the bullpen.

"It was just one of those days where you don't have blow-away stuff," said Jackson, who did manage to strike out five Orioles. "You just have to go out and pitch. That's pretty much what it was from the time I started throwing the pen, I knew what kind of day it would be. It's not my first time getting through it, so you kind of know how to handle the situation."

By the seventh inning, Jackson actually started to feel better, yet he was less effective for it. He served a hanging slider over the plate to Jones to lead off the inning and watched as the ball was scorched off the left-field foul pole for a home run. A flyball to the warning track and two singles later, Jackson was out of the game.

Not that he needed to worry about the guys who entered from the bullpen to pick him up. These days, anybody who toes the rubber wearing a Nationals uniform is likely to have success.

"That's the mentality we all have when we take the field: To be the better pitcher that day," Jackson said. "It's just one those things when the team is rolling and everything is going good, everybody is positive and everybody is taking the field with a positive approach. And it's just showing in the way we play right now."

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.