PHILADELPHIA - The comebacks are nice, obviously. Nine comeback wins in 30 games is pretty darn impressive.
The problem there is that in order to come back to win a game, you have to trail. And the Nationals would prefer that they don’t trail in games as often as they have.
Yesterday marked the eighth time already this season that Nationals pitchers have allowed at least three runs in the first inning.
That’s 27 percent of the time. Not good.
What is there to explain these first-inning issues? Nothing, if you ask the Nationals coaches. They seem as surprised and frustrated by it as those of you sitting at home probably are.
“We’ve gone over the whole thing, the amount of pitches that are thrown in the bullpen prior to the game, all the preparations,” manager Matt Williams said. “It’s just the way it’s been sometimes. Hopefully that’s out of our system now and we can go from here.”
Two nights ago, Jayson Werth’s two-out error led to the first inning continuing, and Stephen Strasburg allowed a three-run homer off the bat of Marlon Byrd. Last night, Tanner Roark allowed a three-run shot to Ryan Howard four batters in.
The Nats have a good enough offense and enough confidence even when they trail that they aren’t out of a game when they’re behind 3-0 early. Last year, that wasn’t necessarily the case. But the Nats can’t keep falling behind - and falling behind by a fairly large margin - so early on.
“You’ve just got to make a pitch,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “I’m not blaming anybody. Errors happen. Home runs happen. But times like that, because it’s happened a few too many times so far, that it just magnifies. But you’ve just got to remember, in this ballpark, you’ve got to keep the ball down. You’ve got to get ahead of guys.
“It’s crucial, but places like this, Milwaukee, smaller ballparks that you go to, you can’t give anybody a walk. Got to make them put the ball in play. Quality pitches, get contact and get a ground ball.”
It seems like the majority of the time that a Nats starter has allowed three or more runs in the first inning, he’s then settled down and pitched well from then on out. On opening day, Strasburg allowed three runs in the first, one in the second, and then delivered four scoreless innings after that. On Friday night, he allowed Byrd’s three-run shot in the opening inning, then went unscored upon in his next five frames of work.
It’s that first inning that’s been trouble, as the Nats have been outscored 31-13 in that frame.
“A lot of times, when you’re going out there, you’ve got adrenaline going and you want to get through the first couple innings and then you tend to settle in,” McCatty said. “I think that’s for most everybody. Being a little amped up going out there first and overthrowing or whatever you want to call it, it tends to happen. A lot of times, starters, when they struggle, it’s early until they get into that good rhythm.
“We go out there and do everything we can to make sure they’re in that good rhythm, just seems like at times, it’s hurt us, where we haven’t made the pitch when we have to. When we have two outs, got to make a pitch. And unfortunately, in a small ballpark, when you make a mistake, it’s gonna be magnified.”