The Nationals got what they needed in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Diamondbacks. Josiah Gray pitched 5 ⅓ innings of one-run ball and four relievers combined to cover the remaining outs in a 6-1 win.
Would it be too much to ask for the same in the nightcap?
Joan Adon was hoping to get deep into the game to help out his taxed teammates in the bullpen and perhaps turn around his start to the season. The relievers who weren’t used in this afternoon’s game were hoping to post more zeros. And the Nationals offense was hoping to manufacture runs just like they had done earlier.
Adon did his part, becoming the first Nationals starting pitcher to complete six innings in 2022 as he helped his club complete the doubleheader sweep with a 1-0 win in front of an announced crowd of 11,720.
The 23-year-old rookie starter held the D-backs scoreless over 6 ⅓ innings with five strikeouts on 88 pitches, 57 for strikes, to earn his first major league win. A big turnaround from his previous two starts.
“It's very grand, very grand. Very exciting," Adon said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez, of his first victory. “I think overall, just things went well for me because I was really, really focused out there.”
Adon had given up four runs in 4 ⅓ innings in his season debut against the Mets and then six runs in 4 ⅔ innings in an erratic second start last week in Pittsburgh. He was way more efficient tonight, using a heavy dose of fastballs topping off at 96.5 mph while mixing in changeups 28 percent of the time.
"I was just talking to Adon," manager Davey Martinez said after being delayed in talking to the media due to clubhouse celebration in honor of Adon. "It's his first win. It's a good one. He pitched well. He pitched really well. I think he threw, like, 67 percent strikes, which was awesome. That's something we preach all the time. I love the way he was attacking the zone.”
The Nationals helped Adon make some adjustments after his first two starts, which the young pitcher was very receptive to.
“We did some things with him mechanically. And he really liked it," said the manager. "And it kept him in a good direction with the catcher. So it was awesome. Like I said, when he throws strikes and he pounds the strike zone, he's tough. He did great.”
So how about that clubhouse celebration?
“It was good," Davey Martinez said with a smile. "There are some things that need to stay in the Circle (of Trust). But the celebration was good for him. He'll remember it, let's put it that way.”
Then the Nationals bullpen was able to best their performance from the first game by only needing three relievers to close out the victory.
Victor Arano was the first one called upon, tasked with cleaning up the seventh inning in place of Adon. The non-roster invitee to spring training closed out the frame with two strikeouts via his slider, solidifying himself as one of the more effective and reliable arms out of the bullpen. He’s only allowed two runs in seven innings over his seven appearances in the young season.
Kyle Finnegan pitched a perfect eighth inning on 14 pitches to fulfill his duties. Tanner Rainey ran into more trouble, issuing a single, walk and single to load the bases with no outs in the ninth. But he came back with a strikeout of Seth Beer, a popout by Jake McCarthy and a flyout by Sergio Alcántara to secure the shutout.
Did Davey Martinez see anything unusual from his presumptive closer?
“He was flying open a little bit," he said. "(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey went out to talk to him, got him back in the zone, not trying to overthrow. Made some good, really good pitches. Hickey talked to him about that. And like I said, he loaded the bases and now we've got three big outs. But he made some good pitches in those three batters.”
Meanwhile, the Nationals offense was able to pull off a small, yet efficient sixth-inning rally similar to the one that won them the first game. After almost nothing against Diamondbacks starter Tyler Gilbert the first two times through the order (the Nats had one baserunner through the first 16 batters), the bottom of the lineup got the scoring again.
Victor Robles - who also flashed his glove with some acrobatic catches in center field - started the rally with a single to left field leading off the bottom of the sixth. Then Lucius Fox, starting at shortstop for the nightcap, just reached on a sacrifice bunt in which his helmet fell off behind him and he then kicked with his back heel into Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker's face. Walker had just dropped the ball the instant before, so it was an E3 and not another Trea Turner situation down the first base line.
César Hernández then delivered the game’s first run with an RBI double to left, his second of the day after recording one in the first game, scoring Robles and moving Fox over to third. The Nationals had an opportunity to blow the game open, but Lane Thomas stuck out looking with the bases loaded to keep it a one-run game.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch and put the ball in play and hit it hard," Hernández said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I have the power to hit in the gaps and get doubles out there. But today I was just trying to look for a good pitch in my zone to swing at. And I was able to do it and get the job done and get the doubles out of that.”
Robles has hits in the three straight games with three RBIs and two runs scored.
This was the recipe for the Nationals in the opener, and it paid off again in Tuesday's second game.
For the most part in 2022, this has been the recipe for the Nationals’ victories: the starter getting deep into the game, the offense scoring enough runs and the strong bullpen closing it out.
It’s worked six times so far. We’ll see how many more times they can put all of the ingredients together.
“It was a good day for the Washington Nationals and the boys played hard," Davey Martinez said. "We limited our mistakes, played good defense, we get the big hit that we needed, scored the run. … Everybody contributed today, so it was nice.”