Washington Nationals Week in Review: July 23–26

Victor Robles was the star of the weekend for the Nationals, including a three-hit, four-RBI game on Saturday. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

We started the “Week in Review” series last season, and we’ve decided to carry it into 2020.

This week was a short one for the Nationals in terms of on-field action, but there’s also plenty that’s happened surrounding the team recently that merits discussion.

The Nationals dropped two out of three games from the Yankees in their opening series of the season. The first loss (4-1) came in a five-plus inning, rain-shortened Game One. Washington rebounded to take the next game (9-2), but lost the finale (3-2) to fall back below .500 to start the year.

To kick things off, here’s a reminder of the Opening Day – and still current – roster:

Not to toot my own horn, but it shaped out very similarly to what I had projected.

Having covered the roster itself, and in keeping with our formula from 2019, let’s break things down by position group:

Starting Pitching

The starting rotation was a bit of a mixed bag this week. Things may have looked more flashy if Stephen Strasburg had pitched in Game Two, but he was scratched due to a hand injury – more on that later.

Here’s how the arms that took the mound performed:

  • Max Scherzer: 5.1 innings, 6 hits, 4 earned runs (1 home run), 4 walks, 11 strikeouts, 99 pitches (62 strikes)
  • Erick Fedde: 4 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs (1 earned, 1 home run), 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 68 pitches (42 strikes)
  • Patrick Corbin: 6.1 innings, 2 hits, 1 run (home run), 0 walks, 8 strikeouts, 75 pitches (49 strikes)

Vintage Max Scherzer wasn’t necessarily on display, but he did have his typical strikeout arsenal on full display.

I have historically been critical of the lack of patience Dave Martinez has shown with Fedde – Saturday’s pitch count is very much in line with what Martinez generally limited him to in 2019 – but in this case, he also drew the start on short notice after being transitioned to the bullpen, so he wasn’t truly “stretched out” as a starter.

Corbin looked like Corbin. Most of the outs were strikeouts and fairly weak groundouts. He arguably should have stayed in the game longer.

Relief Pitchers

Nobody (except for Rainey) threw out of the bullpen more than once, so let’s take a day-by-day look at the relievers’ performances:

Thursday

  • None

Saturday

  • Tanner Rainey: 1 inning, 1 base runner (walk), 2 flyouts, 1 groundout, 9 pitches (4 strikes)
  • Ryne Harper: 2 innings, 1 base runner (single), 4 strikeouts, 31 pitches (18 strikes)
  • James Bourque: 1 inning, 1 base runner (double), 3 air outs, 16 pitches (10 strikes)
  • Kyle Finnegan: 1 inning, 1 base runner (single), throwing error, fly out, ground-ball double play, 13 pitches (9 strikes)

Sunday

  • Will Harris: 0.2 innings, solo home run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 18 pitches (7 strikes)
  • Sean Doolittle: 0.2 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 20 pitches (12 strikes)
  • Tanner Rainey: 0.1 innings, 1 walk (intentional), 1 balk, 1 strikeout, 3 pitches (3 strikes)
  • Daniel Hudson: 1 inning, 0 base runners, 2 air outs, 1 strikeout, 12 pitches (7 strikes)

Rainey’s early entrance is a bit misleading, because he faced the meat of the Yankees’ lineup in the fifth inning while the game was still in line to be a “save situation”. He retired Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres, walked Giancarlo Stanton – for good reason, as he’d hit moonshot home runs in consecutive nights – and got the better of Aaron Hicks with Stanton on first base.

Harper’s two-inning appearance might be the type of outing he’ll often have, similar to Craig Stammen in some sense. The lead the Nationals got out to (7-2 by the top of the seventh and 8-2 to start the eighth) also allowed them to give Bourque and Finnegan’s untested arms a look in live big-league games. In fact, this was Finnegan’s big-league debut.

All in all, the unit got itself off to a much better start to 2020 than it did in 2019. That is, until the series finale. Not only was Corbin pulled a bit early, but the choice to turn to Doolittle in the eighth inning was also questionable.

We also haven’t seen Wander Suero or Roenis Elias yet, since they’re both opening the season on the injured list, but the initial returns regarding the bullpen are mainly encouraging, Doolittle aside.

Lineup

This deviates from our typical approach, but since it’s the beginning of the season and less is known about how well players might be expected to perform or where they’ll hit in the lineup or play defensively, we can dive deeper than normal in this case.

Here’s the stat line each hitter recorded in the opening series of 2020:

  • Trea Turner: 2-11 (single, solo home run), 2 strikeouts
  • Adam Eaton: 4-11 (2 singles, double, solo home run), 2 runs, 1 strikeout
  • Starlin Castro: 2-10 (double, triple), 1 run, 2 strikeouts
  • Howie Kendrick: 1-8 (double), 1 run, 1 RBI, 2 walks (intentional), 1 strikeout
  • Asdrubal Cabrera: 3-9 (single, double, home run), 2 runs, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 0 strikeouts
  • Victor Robles: 3-8 (single, double, home run), 4 RBIs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, 1 caught stealing
  • Eric Thames: 1-5 (single), 1 RBI, 3 strikeouts
  • Kurt Suzuki: 2-6 (2 singles), 1 strikeout
  • Michael A. Taylor: 1-7 (solo home run), 1 walk, 1 strikeout
  • Carter Kieboom: 1-4 (single), 1 run, 1 strikeout
  • Andrew Stevenson: 0-2, 2 strikeouts
  • Yan Gomes: 0-3, 1 hit by pitch, 1 strikeout

Emilio Bonifacio, who might be the new Gerardo Parra, entered as a pinch runner for Cabrera in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday. He took a free 90 feet on a passed ball, but was then narrowly caught stealing at third base on what was ball four to Robles.

In terms of lineup construction, here’s what Martinez deployed:

  1. SS Trea Turner (three times)
  2. RF Adam Eaton (three times)
  3. 2B Starlin Castro (three times)
  4. Howie Kendrick (DH twice, 1B once)
  5. 1B Eric Thames (twice), 3B Asdrubal Cabrera (once)
  6. 3B Asdrubal Cabrera (twice), C Kurt Suzuki (once)
  7. C Kurt Suzuki (once), DH Carter Kieboom (once), CF Victor Robles (once)
  8. LF Andrew Stevenson (once), CF Victor Robles (once), C Yan Gomes (once)
  9. LF Michael A. Taylor (twice), CF Victor Robles (once)

At least initially, it looks like Martinez wants to use a pseudo-platoon of Thames and Kieboom.

The Inactives

Strasburg could be ready to return shortly, but Juan Soto – who failed a COVID-19 test – is much more uncertain.

In order for Soto to return, he will have to test “negative” twice in a 24-hour span. That can happen at any point in the future, but it’s nearly impossible to predict when it might actually happen.

Suero is already throwing, but he’ll be stashed in Fredericksburg for an undetermined period of time.

As for Elias, he was just added to the 60-day IL today.

Looking Ahead

Up next, the Nationals have four games against the Toronto Blue Jays. The first two are technically home games with the second two as “road games”, but the Blue Jays won’t be playing in Toronto this year due to health concerns, and the teams have agreed to play all four games in Washington.

The final three games of the week – no days off – will be in Miami against the Marlins, who are facing struggles of their own.

The entire NL East entered Sunday at 1-1. As it stands, the Marlins have a commanding lead over the Phillies, so they will likely be co-leaders in the division along with the winner of tonight’s matchup between the Braves and Mets in Queens, New York. Sean Newcomb will take the mound for Atlanta, with Rick Porcello on the hill for New York.

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