Three Nats, one inning, nine pitches, three strikeouts

VIERA, Fla. - A two-run loss to the Dominican Republic two nights ago and a one-run loss to Puerto Rico last night, and that’s it for Team USA. The World Baseball Classic is over for the American squad.

Team USA will not be a part of the semifinal round, with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan and the Netherlands making up the four teams left fighting for the WBC title.

Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler will report back to the Nationals, while Roger Bernadina (Netherlands) and Eury Perez (Domincan Republic) will continue on. Gonzalez will return to the Nationals’ rotation and make his scheduled start tomorrow afternoon.

Switching gears a bit, this Nationals roster has a quirk to it. It’s a quirk that only I may find interesting, mind you, but it’s certainly a quirk.

In Major League Baseball history, there have only been 46 pitchers to throw an “Immaculate Inning.” What the heck is an Immaculate Inning, you ask? It’s simple.

One inning. Nine pitches. Three strikeouts.

You might have thrown one yourself back in Little League. Thousands of players have surely accomplished the feat in high school ball. Bryce Harper says he has. But in the history of Major League Baseball, only 46 guys have ever thrown nine pitches and struck out three batters.

Strangely enough, three of them are in the Nationals’ clubhouse this spring, tucked within a 13-locker span.

Jordan Zimmermann, Rafael Soriano and Ross Ohlendorf are a part of this exclusive club, one that is so random that not many people know it exists.

“Really?” Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “Nine pitches? Obviously, you see how important that is to me. But that’s pretty cool, I guess.”

While 46 pitchers have thrown an Immaculate Inning, three have done it twice: Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Lefty Grove. That’s a pretty distinguished group right there. But some of the other names on the list of pitchers to have thrown an Immaculate Inning are a bit more random.

Brandon Backe did it in 2004. Rick Helling in 2006. Buddy Carlyle in 2007. Juan Perez in 2011.

Of the three Nationals players to throw an Immaculate Inning, Ohlendorf was the first. His came back in 2009 when he was a member of the Pirates. It was Sept. 5, Pittsburgh was playing the Cardinals, and Ohlendorf struck out Khalil Greene, Julio Lugo and Jason LaRue, all swinging. The right-hander threw eight sliders and one fastball.

“Mine was, I’m guessing, unique, because on all three of them, the catcher blocked the third strike and threw down to first,” Ohlendorf said. “I’m guessing that’s never happened before. I realized it about the fifth pitch, that I could maybe do it. I had no idea it was that rare. I would’ve asked the first baseman for the ball. He threw it in the stands when he came in. But yeah, it was really cool. And that was a really good game for me. I pitched real well that game.”

Soriano’s came the following season, on Aug. 23, 2010, when he was with the Rays. Facing the Angels in Anaheim, Soriano got Erick Aybar, Mike Napoli and Peter Bourjos, all swinging in the ninth inning, to notch his 38th save of the season.

“Yeah, I remember,” Soriano said. “I be surprised, because I didn’t know it’d be the record for that. It don’t really matter. I just try to go out there and do my job. The next day, I see everybody come to me. I say, ‘What happened? You guys not talk to me last night, why you want to talk to me now?’ And they tell me. I say, ‘Boy, I didn’t know about that.’

“It’s a good moment because I had my mother (there) and she not watching me every time, like in person. But that night, she go there and she see me pitch.”

zimmermann red fenway throwing sidebar.jpgZimmermann’s Immaculate Inning came on May 6, 2011, in Miami. The right-hander faced Giancarlo Stanton (then known as Mike), Greg Dobbs and John Buck in the second inning. He got Stanton and Buck swinging and Dobbs looking, with all three strikeouts coming on fastballs.

“Looking back at it now, I don’t really know how it happened, because I have a hard time getting Dobbs out, and obviously Stanton’s an incredible hitter,” Zimmermann said. “I guess you’ve kind of got to get lucky. I threw a ball that was up that probably should’ve been a ball that was a strike. I guess it’s one of those luck factors, I guess.

“I didn’t really realize it happened at the time. After the game was over, (reporters) brought it up and said that it happened. It was one of those things that you don’t really think about.”

The first big league Immaculate Inning on record was thrown by John Clarkson of the Boston Beaneaters (what an incredible team name) back in 1889. They’ve become much more common recently; at least one Immaculate Inning has been recorded in seven straight years, and 14 have come in the last 10 seasons.

To put into perspective just how uncommon Immaculate Innings are, there have been 279 no-hitters in MLB history, and 236 in the modern era. There are obviously far more innings pitched than games played, making the 49 Immaculate Innings even more rare when stacked up against no-hitters.

“That doesn’t mean it’s better, certainly,” Ohlendorf acknowledged, with a smile.

The reactions to having pitched an Immaculate Inning vary. Zimmermann and Ohlendorf find it cool and a neat little thing to have next to their name. Zimmermann still has the ball from his Immaculate Inning. Soriano, however, doesn’t seem to really care.

Neither does McCatty, whose distaste for strikeouts is well-documented. For the most part, McCatty would prefer his pitchers not focus on strikeouts because they tend to elevate pitch counts.

“Nine pitches, if we could do that all the time, I guess I’d want to strike more guys out,” McCatty said. “That’d change my philosophy. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works. I think (Stephen) Strasburg going into the sixth inning the other day with 62 pitches is more impressive than that. It’s a rarity, but to me, it’s not a big deal.”

Still, having Ohlendorf, Soriano and Zimmermann all in the same jersey this season is a cool little thing. They don’t have any secret handshakes or anything, but are certainly all a part of an exclusive group.

“That’s pretty crazy if there’s only 46 out there, and there’s three in this clubhouse,” Zimmermann said. “That’s pretty unbelievable, I guess. To have three in the same clubhouse is pretty cool.”

Side note: I’m leaving behind the Residence Inn and Space Coast Stadium to head back home for a few days. Pete Kerzel will have things covered in my absence here on I’ll check back in with you guys later next week.

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