Whew, that turned out to be some eventful Saturday at Nationals Park.
Most of what transpired both on and off the field was not positive, but the night-capping news that Juan Soto is getting called up today to make his major league debut at 19 at least was a small ray of sunshine on an otherwise dismal day.
We covered all the news elsewhere, but here are some other key moments and observations that might have slipped through the cracks ...
Doolittle, who had already allowed a pair of leadoff singles to put himself in a ninth-inning jam, said he and Kieboom had previously gone over the signs in case of a runner on second base. But when he went to throw his 0-1 pitch to Matt Kemp with the game on the line, he realized his rookie catcher was set up on the opposite side of the plate he expected.
“I messed up the sign,” Doolittle said. “So when I lifted up my leg and looked at home, Boomer was in a different spot than what I had kind of envisioned. He puts the sign down, I kind of envision it in my head as I’m coming set. And I pick up home plate, he’s on the other side of the plate. So I threw a pitch I wasn’t committed to.”
It appears Kieboom called for an inside fastball, and Doolittle thought he was calling for an outside fastball. The 93 mph pitch wound up down and in, and Kemp ripped it into the left field corner for a two-run double that turned a 4-3 lead into a 5-4 deficit.
“It was almost like I was trying to hit a moving target,” the closer said. “And throwing the ball with conviction, when you throw 90 percent fastballs, is so important. I didn’t have conviction behind that pitch, because I messed it up. I feel terrible. It’s frustrating when you go down on something other than your best bullet. If I hit my spot and he turns it around, I can live with that. But that’s a tough one to swallow.”
Kieboom, who made his first career start behind the plate in the afternoon opener, found himself catching the final three innings of the nightcap after manager Davey Martinez pinch-hit Matt Adams for Pedro Severino with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Adams came through with the two-run single that gave the Nats the lead, but Kieboom now was catching a set of relievers he’d never worked with before outside of spring training.
“He felt bad, but he called the right pitch according to the game plan that he and I talked about before the game,” Doolittle said. “I just messed it up, and it sucks.”
* Max Scherzer wasn’t just great, he threw 121 pitches.
When Scherzer walked off the mound at the end of the sixth, his pitch count stood at 108. He had struck out 13 batters. The Nationals trailed 2-0. The bullpen was fresh. Easy decision to remove him, right? No.
“He was adamant,” Martinez said. “We have conversations, and he came in and said: ‘I’m 1,000 percent good to go.’ We know he’s got an extra day (of rest) coming up, and I told him as the inning progressed: ‘We get the lead, you’re back out there. But if I see something, then I’m going to go get you.’ “
The Nationals did take the lead, scoring four runs with two outs, the final RBI coming on Scherzer’s single up the middle. And he finished on a high note, pitching around a leadoff walk to get Joc Pederson to fly out to left and Max Muncy to ground into a double play.
Scherzer, whose previous season high was 111 pitches, insisted he was ready to extend himself this time after getting three extra days off this week due to rainouts.
“I mean, it was like a college start, pitching once a week,” he said with a laugh. “Plus, I had checked the schedule, and I was going to be on six days’ (rest for his next start). I knew I was going to have the ability to pitch deep with a lot of pitches tonight. And when I came out of the sixth, I think it was (108) pitches, I said I was good. Put me back out there. I still have a lot left there in the tank.”
As for Scherzer’s offensive heroics, just know this: He now owns a .308 batting average (8-for-26) and has more RBIs (four) than strikeouts (three).
* Incredibly, Soto likely will make his major league debut today
When the season began, nobody - and I mean nobody - would have predicted Soto would make his major league debut in 2018, let alone on May 20. Shoot, even a week ago nobody would have predicted the organization’s top slugging prospect would make his debut until much later in the season.
But then Howie Kendrick ruptured his right Achilles tendon on a routine fly ball to left. And when that severe injury was added to all the others suffered by this team, the Nationals really had little choice but to take a chance and promote the 19-year-old outfielder.
Soto has been on an absolute tear through three levels of the minors over the last month-plus. He was hitting a combined .362 with 14 homers, 52 RBIs and a 1.218 OPS in 39 games split between Single-A Hagerstown, Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. And in 508 total minor league plate appearances over three seasons, he was hitting .362 with 22 homers, 102 RBIs and a 1.043 OPS.
This, though, is a massive jump for a kid who one month ago was still in low Single-A. Yes, Bryce Harper made his major league debut at 19 and with a comparable number of minor league plate appearances. But Harper spent half a season at Double-A, then three weeks at Triple-A before getting the call.
Given the alternatives at this point for a starting left fielder, the Nationals can’t be blamed for going for broke with Soto. But don’t put too much pressure on the kid just yet. He’s going to be entering a whole new world starting today. It’s OK if he struggles.
By the way, if you want to feel really old ... Soto was born on Oct. 25, 1998. He was 13 when Harper made his major league debut in 2012.