Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series win at the Padres
Game 1: 8-5 win on Monday night (May 7)
Game 2: 4-0 win on Tuesday night (May 8)
Game 3: 2-1 loss on Wednesday night (May 9)
1. The Nats come out of this series having won nine of 11 games, and the biggest reason for that is their starting pitching. A rotation that was iffy during the 11-16 start now is first in the National League in ERA (3.08), first in WHIP (1.08) and first in opponents’ OPS (..643).
Gio Gonzalez in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night was good for a third consecutive start, allowing one run in six innings on eight strikeouts versus two doubles, three singles and three walks. Gio showed some of his 2017 Houdini self in the bottom of the second, escaping a bases-loaded one-out jam by striking out Matt Szczur on five pitches and then getting Eric Hosmer to ground out softly to Gio. He then struck out the side in the bottom of the third before allowing a run in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back one-out doubles. Gio again wasn’t pitch efficient, as he threw 110 pitches (just 61 of which were strikes) over the six innings, and he does continue to walk too many batters. But there’s no complaining about the run prevention – Gio now has a 2.22 ERA over eight starts this season to go with what would be a career-best 10.07 K/9.
Jeremy Hellickson continued to be the pitching surprise of the season for the Nats in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night. He tossed six perfect innings before allowing a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh, ultimately tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings on eight strikeouts versus two hits and no walks on 91 pitches. And Hellickson had a two-out RBI double in the top of the seventh. Here now are his numbers over five starts with the Nats: 2.28 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .556 opponents’ OPS. He has been outstanding, which is a far cry from what he had been in four of the previous five seasons (4.69 ERA and 87 ERA+ over 134 games (including 133 starts)). I can not say enough about how well Hellickson has pitched and well he has been handled by Dave Martinez.
Stephen Strasburg in the 8-5 win at the Padres on Monday night was good for a third time in four starts, allowing three runs in seven innings on five strikeouts versus six hits, a walk and a wild pitch.
2. Matt Adams continued his torrid run before not playing in the in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night due to the Padres throwing a lefty starter (Adams entering this season had a .652 OPS versus lefties versus an .804 OPS versus righties over the last three seasons). Adams in the 8-5 win at the Padres on Monday night had a two-run homer on a 1-2 pitch in the Nats’ four-run sixth, a one-out three-run homer in the seventh and a walk. And he in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night had an RBI double on a 1-2 pitch in the top of the fifth and a walk.
3. And in game no. 38, he rested. Bryce Harper did not play in a game for the first time this season in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night, as he was mired in an 0-for-16 slump over the previous four games. What I didn’t get was Dave Martinez not pinch-hitting Bryce in the top of the ninth. The Nats got a leadoff single from Ryan Zimmerman but then saw Howie Kendrick fly out and Matt Wieters and Moises Sierra strike out to end the game (and Sierra struck out on three pitches). How do you not pinch-hit for Wieters or Sierra with Bryce?
Bryce went 0-for-4 with a walk in the 8-5 win at the Padres on Monday night and 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night. I know that some have taken this as fuel to remove Bryce from the leadoff spot, but I wouldn’t be so quick to do that, especially with both Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton seemingly still weeks away from playing. Murphy has yet to play this season due to right-knee microfracture surgery last October. Eaton hasn’t played since April 8 due to a left-ankle bone bruise. I’m not a big believer in lineup “protection,” but there’s no doubt that Harper was being intentionally walked like crazy prior to moving to the no. 1 spot. What is there to make you think that that wouldn’t resume were he to move back out of the leadoff spot?
4. Ryan Zimmerman in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night returned from a three-game absence caused by side stiffness and had two singles. He had two more singles in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night, during which he also had – ya ready for this? – a walk. Zimmerman’s lack of walks have been more frustrating to me than anything else with him this season. He now has just nine walks this season. For comparison’s sake, Pedro Severino, who’s not exactly Johnny Bench, has 10 walks in 55 fewer plate appearances than Zimmerman has (70 versus 125) this season. Severino had an RBI single in the top of the fifth and a double in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night
5. Howie Kendrick quietly continues to produce. He had a double and a single in the 8-5 win at the Padres on Monday night, two singles in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night and a single in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night. Kendrick is second among qualified Nats with a .794 OPS this season.
6. Anthony Rendon seems to have hit the ground running, as he’s now 6-for-18 with three walks since returning from a 19-game absence caused by a toe injury that the Nats said was a contusion but that he revealed to The Washington Post on May 4 during a rehab stint with High-A Potomac was actually a hairline fracture. Rendon in the 8-5 win at the Padres on Monday night had an RBI double on an 0-2 pitch in the Nats’ four-sun sixth, another double and a walk. And he in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night had a leadoff homer in the top of the fourth and a single.
7. The Nats’ bullpen wasn’t leaned on much in this series, but again had issues in allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Trevor Gott in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night allowed what proved the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh on a leadoff single by Manuel Margot and a one-out first-pitch RBI double by Matt Szczur. Not helping matters was a Matt Wieters throwing error on Margot’s steal of second base, advancing him to third, although that’s a throw that Trea Turner could’ve handled at second base.
Carlos Torres allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth in the 8-5 win at the Padres on Monday night.
Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Wander Suero combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the 4-0 win at the Padres on Tuesday night. Dave Martinez used Madson to get just the final out in the bottom of the seventh and then actually had Suero close out the game in the bottom of the ninth.
The Nats on Monday reinstated Shawn Kelley from the 10-day disabled list, which he had been on due to right-elbow irritation. He faced one batter in the series, retiring Margot on a groundout for the final out in the bottom of the eighth in the 2-1 loss at the Padres on Wednesday night.