Washington Nationals Rapid Reaction: Nats Offense Continued To Excel Vs. Mets

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The Washington Nationals opened a four game series against the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday night. After the back-to-back games against the Atlanta Braves where the Nationals scored 13 runs in each game, the biggest question coming into the series was whether or not the Nats would be able to continue to score runs.

The answer, at least for one night, was yes. The Nationals scored eight runs and beat the Mets 8-2 after allowing the Mets to score first and get ahead 2-0. They came back against Jacob deGrom and kept scoring on the Mets bullpen. Yunel Escobar played his first game since being spiked by Andrelton Simmons during the Braves series on Monday. However, the time off did not affect his hitting. He went 3-for-5 on the night. Jayson Werth went 2-for-5 and Ryan Zimmerman had two hits in four plate appearances, along with Bryce Harper. The middle of the lineup did some damage.

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Strasburg Starts Weak, Finishes Strong

Stephen Strasburg started his night allowing two base runners in the first inning, one of them via walk. He gave up two runs in the bottom of the second. His fastball was terrific, but he was having difficulty throwing his other pitches for strikes. His pitch count at the end of two innings was nearly 50. It was clear he wasn’t going deep into this game. He didn’t get it together until the bottom of the third. He retired the side in order in the third, fourth and fifth innings.

He tired out in the sixth inning after having started the inning on 91 pitches.  He also had a long sit in the dugout during the top of the sixth when the Nats sent seven hitters to the plate and the Mets made a pitching change.

He gave up back-to-back singles to Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer to start the inning. He did get Daniel Murphy to fly out to right field, but Duda went to third. With runners on the corners and the Nats holding a 5-2 lead, manager Matt Williams decided to go to the bullpen with Strasburg at 100 pitches.

Know Your Umpire

The home plate umpire for this game was Tom Hallion. He was the umpire for Strasburg’s major league debut, when he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates back on June 8, 2010.

Hallion is a strike hunter who gives the pitchers the close calls. More than once, hitters were looking back at Hallion after a called strike in disbelief. He is one of the few Major League  umpires that loves to call that third strike on a batter. He’s got this special strike three call move behind the plate that he likes to display.

He likes pitchers who throw the fastball. He will give a pitcher the borderline strike on a fastball, but not on most other pitches.

Through the first three innings, deGrom seemed to know that, and was throwing stuff right in the zone for strike one. Strasburg didn’t get that figured out until the third inning. Strasburg and Wilson Ramos should have known the umpire they were working with and used the fastball more from the onset.

Know Your Players

Ryan Zimmerman was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a shallow fly ball to center hit by Danny Espinosa in the top of the sixth inning. The Nationals went from a bases loaded, one out situation to out of the inning.

I realize Strasburg was the next scheduled batter. I know the thought process was–might as well send Zimmerman because Strasburg is the next batter and he probably will not get a hit and strand the runners.

That was wrong-headed thinking by Matt Williams and third base coach Bob Henley. They failed to know their players, and the Mets players. This play was a mistake for three reasons:

1. Juan Lagares mans center field for the Mets and he has a strong, accurate arm. He made what folks may say was a perfect throw to get Zimmerman at the plate. I would have expected nothing less from Lagares.

2. Ryan Zimmerman is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot. This is a very painful condition and it feels like someone is shoving knives in your heel every time you take a step, much less when you start running. Zimmerman is not the fastest guy on the team, but this injury is slowing him down when he is running. Ryan without plantar fasciitis probably would have beaten the throw. Ryan a half step slower–no way. Henley didn’t take that into account (and Lagares’ arm either, I think) when he sent Ryan.

3. Strasburg should not have been the next batter. Once Espinosa lined out to shallow center, Williams should have gone to a pinch hitter and ended Strasburg’s evening. Strasburg had already thrown 91 pitches and he had been sitting a long time in the dugout while his teammates were almost batting around during the inning. At that point, the Nationals were only up three runs, which is not what I would call a comfortable lead against the Mets. That was the time to bring in a pinch hitter and see if you could push more runs across the plate.

As it turned out, Strasburg got into a jam in the bottom sixth and had to be lifted. He was angry about being taken out of the game and didn’t want to give Williams the ball. It probably would have been easier to sell Strasburg on ending his night during the top of the sixth with the bases loaded by telling him that you pitched well, but I need to put in a hitter to see if we can make sure we get this win for you. Pitchers seem to understand being pulled for a pinch hitter better than being pulled off the mound during an inning.

It’s still early in the year for the starting pitchers and Strasburg’s pitch count at the end of the fifth inning was too high to not give serious consideration to just not sending him out for the sixth inning. He is not in midseason form where he can be stretched to over 100 pitches to get that extra inning out of him. All of that should have been thought through before blindly sending Zimmerman home on a shallow fly ball.

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