Irvin impresses, but bullpen falters in blowout loss to Phillies (updated)

The Nationals’ bullpen usage was going to catch up to them eventually. After using six relievers to secure last night’s win over the Phillies, manager Davey Martinez needed either an extended outing from his starter or a big lead in the late innings.

He got one of those two in the form of Jake Irvin’s impressive six shutout innings. But with only a three-run lead going into the seventh, Martinez had to use either relievers running on fumes or arms he wouldn’t normally call upon late in close games. In this instance, it was Cory Abbott.

“We used every pitcher we had," Martinez said of the state of his bullpen after the game. "Cory was gonna pitch. It just didn't work out for him today.”

Although the day started out well for the Nats, the end result was a tough 12-3 loss in front of a sellout crowd of 38,853 who soaked in today’s beautiful weather in the District.

Handed a 3-0 lead after Irvin’s strong performance and RBIs from Joey Meneses and Riley Adams off lefty Cristopher Sánchez, the Nats bullpen faltered against this tough Phillies lineup. Jose A. Ferrer, pitching for the fourth time in five days, gave up a walk and single with one out in the seventh. After a forceout at second put runners on the corners, Andrés Machado, pitching for the third straight day, served up a three-run home run to Nick Castellanos, leaving this game suddenly tied.

“We're hoping Machado gets out of that inning and maybe we could send him out again," Martinez said. "But even he's been pitching a lot. The only guys, they needed a day."

Things went downhill from there.

The Nats wasted an opportunity to retake the lead in the bottom of the seventh when Alex Call reached third base on a bunt single and two-bag throwing error by right-handed reliever Seranthony Domínguez with one out. CJ Abrams' flyout to left was too short for a sacrifice fly and Lane Thomas' was too short for a two-run homer.

Then Abbott had to wear one for his exhausted bullpen teammates, giving up eight runs on seven hits in the eighth inning to blow this one wide open. Trea Turner, who had committed an earlier error that led to one of the Nats’ three runs, led off the inning with a solo homer to left and later followed Bryson Stott’s three-run shot with his second blast of the inning.

“Just the way it goes," said Abbott, who was optioned to Triple-A Rochester after the game. "The Phillies have always done well against me. I had the one outing last time against them, but I haven't had many wins, I would say, against them. They own me.”

That they do. Abbott now sports a 14.92 ERA and 2.447 WHIP (21 runs, 22 hits and nine walks) in 12 ⅔ career innings against the Phillies.

“You're facing a tough lineup," Martinez said. "He got behind, gave up the home run and I think after that his demeanor just got down. But you gotta keep fighting right there. I mean, if he keeps it even remotely close, who knows what can happen. But like I said, it just didn't happen today.”

The state of the Nats ‘pen eventually led to Ildemaro Vargas pitching the ninth inning, his second time taking the mound this year, with both now coming against the Phillies. The third baseman gave up a leadoff homer to Jake Cave, a somber way to end the day on the hill after it started so strongly.

Irvin took the mound looking to build off his last start in which he pitched 6 ⅔ innings of two-run ball against the Athletics. He departed it after one of the more impressive starts in his young career.

Facing the dangerous Phillies for the first time, the rookie right-hander tossed six scoreless innings, none more impressive than his last one.

“Jake was phenomenal. He really was," Martinez said. "He gave us six innings. He emptied out the tank there in the sixth and he was at 94 pitches. Great. He pitched really well.”

After surrendering back-to-back singles to Bryce Harper and Castellanos to start the frame, Irvin came back to get Stott to fly out to center and strike out Turner with a curveball low and away.

He was close to ending the inning on the next batter, but ran into some bad luck with J.T. Realmuto’s infield single loading the bases. That brought Martinez out from the dugout with Ferrer warming up in the bullpen for the left-handed hitting Cave.

In what is usually a sure sign of a pitching change, Irvin was able to convince Martinez to let him face Cave to complete the inning while at 91 pitches. And he rewarded his manager on his next three pitches.

“I just went out there and I said, 'I'm just here to give you a breather. I think you can get this guy out,'" said Martinez. "And he was pumped up that I let him stay in there. And I said, 'You got this. Just make your pitches. We're gonna get out of it.' He did, and he did really well.”

“As soon as you see him walking up the steps, it's kind of the thought going through your head like 'I want this moment,'" Irvin said. "I know that our bullpen has been taxed a little bit. That's the positive of winning games is that the back end of that bullpen needs a little help. So I want to get as many outs as possible and that one right there's one he asked for.”

Irvin attacked Cave with a first-pitch curveball, another curve on the inside of the plate and then put him away with a high 94 mph fastball. After leaving the bases loaded with a 2-0 lead intact, Irvin let out a big yell and fist pump as he walked off the mound.

“He came out and gave me a big hug and dropped a couple words," Martinez said. "But he was excited I gave him an opportunity. And I told him that he earned that. So great job.”

“It's a big boost of confidence for me knowing that he's got my back and wants me in that situation," Irvin said. "And like I said, as a competitor, you just want the ball there.”

His final line included six hits, two walks, seven strikeouts and two hit batters on 94 pitches, 63 strikes. The bullpen’s included 12 runs on 11 hits, three walks and a hit batter in three innings.

“Pitch fearlessly, throw the ball over the plate and whatever happens, happens," Irvin said. "But make pitches, throw strikes and keep guys off balance.”

“Just let him take a deep breath and understand that, hey, that was his game," Martinez said. "Like I said, it's just another growth moment for one of our young starters. And he got through it really well.”

Unfortunately, the bullpen did not. It was a short amount of time after that great moment before this one completely flipped on its head.

Now the Nationals will meet the Phillies in Williamsport, where they will look to win their seventh straight home series in tomorrow night’s Little League Classic with more relievers available to pitch.

"Good news is that tomorrow these guys should be available to pitch," said Martinez, "and we got a chance to win a series.”

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