ANAHEIM, Calif. – There are going to be nights during this Nationals season when the end result is going to cause immense frustration but the ultimate takeaway is going to be decidedly encouraging.
Such is life for a rebuilding ballclub, with individual performances at times carrying more weight than the final score. That may be a tough pill for some to swallow, but get used to it, because there were will more nights like this.
Nobody wants to get excited about a 3-0 loss to the Angels in which the lineup squandered some early scoring opportunities and then went mostly silent the rest of the evening. But take a deep breath and ask yourself what the most important development of the day was for the Nationals, and your answer will include the name Joan Adon.
"A lineup like they have, which is obviously a very great lineup, it gives me the excitement to try to prove myself," the 23-year-old said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "It's such a great lineup, and if I can hold my own out there and do what I need to do, I can show people that I belong up here."
Though he was charged with the loss, having allowed three runs over five innings, Adon went toe-to-toe with the Angels’ star-laden lineup and more than held his own. The rookie right-hander certainly won over a few more supporters in the visitors’ dugout. He might’ve even impressed a few guys on the home side.
Adon may face no stiffer test this season than the one he faced tonight in an Angels lineup loaded with some of the sport’s best hitters. And though there were a couple of notable hiccups, it was hard not to come away more impressed with the positives than dismayed by the negatives.
"He did really well," manager Davey Martinez said. "It's a tough lineup, and after the first inning, he settled down and threw the ball really well."
The bottom of the first provided an immediate test for the rookie. After walking Taylor Ward (the first of three times he’d walk the leadoff man), surrendering a single to Mike Trout and letting both runners move into scoring position on a wild pitch, Adon found himself in a nightmare of an early jam. He responded, though, by getting Shohei Ohtani to ground to second (trading a run for an out), then striking out Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh, each looking at 96 mph fastballs.
Adon’s fastball was especially effective in this game. Every one of his six strikeouts came on heaters that registered between 95-96 mph, leaving some of the Angels’ accomplished hitters muttering to themselves as they trudged back to the dugout.
"During the game, I kept talking to (catcher Keibert Ruiz) ... and he was telling me that my fastball was having a lot of life and movement on it," he said. "So we were going to stay with it, since it was looking very good."
By the time the Angels got a third opportunity to face Adon, though, they might have figured out his pitch sequencing.
The kid again put himself in a massive jam when he loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, bringing Trout to the plate. Just as he did in their previous encounter, Adon got ahead in the count 0-2. And just as he did the previous time, he tried to blow a fastball past the three-time American League MVP. This time, Trout was ready for it, blasting a two-run double off the wall in center to extend the Angels’ lead to 3-0.
"I just feel like (Trout) wasn't able to hit it," Ruiz said of the pitch selection. "I just had that feeling when I was behind the plate. That's why I called that pitch."
Adon would still finish strong, inducing a bases-loaded double play out of Rendon to end the fifth and end the damage right there. He wound up allowing three runs in five innings, issuing five walks (one intentional), but if it’s possible to come away impressed with that pitching line, this was the night to feel that way.
"I talked to him after I took him out, and I said to him: 'You're going to win a lot of games here,' " Martinez said. "And he came to me and said: 'I've got to stop walking guys.' And I said: 'Yep, that's my point. When you throw strike one and get ahead of hitters, you're nasty.' "
If only Adon's teammates had provided him any run support.
The Nationals had some early chances against Angels starter Jhonathan Diaz, but they squandered each of them and bailed out the rookie left-hander. They did so once again by making two outs on one swing of the bat, an all-too-common occurrence this week.
Nelson Cruz, returning to the lineup three days after departing with a stiff lower back, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play in the top of the first. Maikel Franco then grounded into his own 6-4-3 twin killing in the top of the sixth. That represented the Nats’ 11th double play grounded into in their previous 32 offensive innings.
When they weren’t hitting the ball on the ground, the Nationals weren’t making contact at all. Juan Soto twice struck out, the second time after a couple of borderline calls by Chad Whitson that left the star slugger berating the plate umpire but avoiding ejection.
"We just weren't able to get anything going, other than the first inning," Martinez said. "After that, we just couldn't get nothing going."