Irvin gets chance to end Nats' long streak of winless debuts

When it came time to decide who to summon from their farm system to start tonight’s game against the Cubs, the Nationals had options. They could’ve gone with someone with considerable big league experience (Wily Peralta), modest big league experience (Paolo Espino) or minimal big league experience (Cory Abbott, Joan Adon).

In the end, they went with zero big league experience.

That’s right, when they take the field this evening, the Nationals will be led by Jake Irvin, a 26-year-old right-hander making his major league debut. It’s a debut most assumed would come sometime this season but few figured would come this soon.

“His last outing, he pitched really well,” said manager Davey Martinez, referencing the two runs Irvin allowed in 5 1/3 innings for Triple-A Rochester one week ago. “He’s stretched out to about 90 pitches. So we’re going to give him an opportunity to come out here and start for us tomorrow, and see what he does and see where he goes.”

A fourth round pick in the 2018 draft out of Oklahoma – where he was rotation mates with 2020 first round pick Cade Cavalli – Irvin is the organization’s 20th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He missed all of the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery and split last season between Single-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg.

But he’s 26 years old, a 6-foot-6 right-hander with a fastball that can reach the upper 90s and solid command during his professional career to date. And because he was added to the 40-man roster over the winter, there was always reason to believe he’d find his way to Washington at some point this season.

“In spring training, he was really good at attacking the zone,” Martinez said. “Early strikes. Good slider, good curveball, good changeup. But the key was his fastballs were strikes. If he can do that here tomorrow, he’ll do well.”

The Nationals were in need of a starter today after Friday’s homestand opener against the Pirates was rained out, forcing a doubleheader on Saturday. That makes this the team’s sixth game in five days, necessitating the addition of another starter.

Martinez hasn’t committed to Irvin beyond this debut outing, but the team will need someone to take over the rotation spot that opened up when Chad Kuhl landed on the 15-day injured list with a right foot ailment. Perhaps that someone eventually will be one of the club’s more experienced options like Espino (who just returned to Rochester’s rotation after dealing with a hamstring strain) or Peralta (who debuted in the majors 10 years ago).

But for now, Irvin will get his shot, with Abbott optioned back to Triple-A two days after he was called up and pitched two innings in relief.

“We thought where we’re at right now, we wanted to give him an opportunity to go out there and see what he can do up here at the major league level,” Martinez said of Irvin. “The other guy who is just coming off an injury is Espino. He just threw one outing, so we wanted to make sure we stretched him out. We felt this was a great opportunity to get Jake up here, let him go out there and see what he can do.”

Irvin will attempt to do tonight what no Nationals rookie has done in 13 years: Win his major league debut. Stephen Strasburg, believe it or not, was the last Nats starting pitcher to earn the win in his historic June 8, 2010 debut.

Since then, the Nats have seen 15 starting pitchers make their major league debuts for them. A few have authored quality performances, but none has come away with the win.

The full, post-Strasburg list, in chronological order: Yunesky Maya, Tommy Milone, Nate Karns, Taylor Jordan, Joe Ross, A.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth, Wil Crowe, Adon, Jackson Tetreault, Evan Lee and Cavalli.

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