With two on and nobody out in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, Kyle Finnegan’s thoughts hearkened back 12 days prior, when he faced an identical situation and lived to tell about that.
That cold night in Minnesota, Finnegan pitched his way out of a jam by getting a lineout and then a 5-4-3 double play, preserving a one-run victory for the Nationals. This time, he pulled it off thanks to a fielder’s choice on a bunt, then a 6-4-3 double play, preserving another one-run victory.
“I found myself there a couple times before this year,” Finnegan said. “Knowing that I’ve gotten out of it before helps a lot. And we’ve been turning so many double plays behind us, you know you’re never really out of it.”
Look at Finnegan’s 2023 totals to date, and it’s easy to believe he’s having a disastrous season. His ERA is 6.00. His WHIP is 1.583. He has surrendered three homers in only 12 innings.
That doesn’t accurately reflect his true performance to date, though. Most of those lofty numbers were the direct result of one awful appearance on April 4 against the Rays, when he was roughed up for five runs while recording only one out, surrendering all three of those homers.
In 10 appearances spanning 9 2/3 innings since, Finnegan has allowed one run on eight hits, walking two while striking out 10. Most importantly, he’s 6-for-6 in save opportunities.
What’s been the difference?
“The biggest thing for me is him pounding the strike zone,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I know he’s throwing some more splitters. He’s throwing some more sliders. But for me, he’s pounding that strike zone. And he’s pitching in a little bit more, which is awesome, to righties. That’s what he’s got to do.”
The inside fastball may be a real key to Finnegan’s success in getting out of jams. It has often allowed him to induce weak contact on the ground, which in turn gives his defense chances to turn double plays.
“I definitely feel good fastball in to the righties right now,” he said. “It’s been bread-and-butter for a lot of the guys coming out of our bullpen. That’s a pitch that gets groundballs a lot, and that’s something that we all kind of have in our repertoire down there.”
“He needs to pitch in,” Martinez said. “The first time we had him, that’s what I really loved about him: That he threw two-seamers in. He wasn’t afraid to go in. He could throw them for strikes. And he did get a lot of groundballs. So I always have to go back and tell him: ‘You have to be you. You can’t be afraid to pitch in.’”
Finnegan has now induced three double plays in his last nine outings, each of them ending an inning, two of them ending a game.
“Once you get to one pitch away, you feel the momentum swing a little bit,” he said. “Because we’re so confident in getting double plays, and our defense has been so great.”