Despite bases-loaded situation in ninth, Nats see Harris' improvement

Right-hander Will Harris was hoping to start returning to normal, and after two quick outs in the top of the ninth inning Monday night, the Nationals reliever was doing just that.

In August, Harris had a 0-1 record with a 1.50 ERA in six appearances. His ERA jumped to 3.12 after giving up a run on two hits on Sept. 3 versus the Phillies. After the game, Harris said that he didn't quite have the best feel for the baseball that night.

Against the Rays, Harris dispatched Yoshi Tsutsugo on a flyout to center field and struck out Brett Phillips with a steady diet of curveballs and cutters.

But then Nate Lowe doubled on a full count. Harris then walked Kevan Smith on six pitches and Austin Meadows on seven pitches, leaving with the bases loaded.

Daniel Hudson replaced Harris and struck out Randy Arozarena to conclude the 6-1 Nats win.

As for the two walks, some of the pitches appeared to be borderline, but Harris did not get that strike three call from home plate umpire Mark Wegner. Tampa Bay's hitters were also not biting on pitches outside the strike zone.

Harris-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgManager Davey Martinez and catcher Kurt Suzuki liked what they saw from Harris, despite the bases-loaded situation at the end.

"I got to go back and really look at him myself, but he threw the ball well," Martinez said during his postgame Zoom video session with reporters. "He really did. Had a lot of 0-2 counts. A lot of those pitches looked like strikes, but I can't tell from where I'm sitting from. So I will take a look at them. But he looked good tonight."

From behind the plate, Suzuki offered a similar endorsement.

"Honestly, I think Will is starting to get back to where Will Harris usually is," Suzuki said. "He's throwing that cutter. He's moving it in all quadrants of the zone. Throwing that good, snapping curveball. His last few outings, he's been lights out. Too bad we got only a couple of weeks left.

"In a normal season, he'd be finding his groove now, heading into the summer of the season and off you go. But everything kind of gets magnified in a season like this, and with Will, obviously with having the late start and all that kind of stuff, he's working his way back."

Suzuki explained the walks at the end were a credit to the patience displayed by Tampa Bay hitters. The Rays do a nice job of working the counts and don't just jump on the first pitch. Four of the five batters Harris faced battled for at least six pitches. The strikeout of Phillips came on a five-pitch at-bat.

"They aren't really a free-swinging team at balls out of the zone," Suzuki said. "They don't chase too much. We weren't getting the swings that sometimes you would get. You got to tip your hat sometimes to the (other) team. They didn't chase. Tonight was one of those nights where they just laid off and you tip your hat."

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