CINCINNATI – Baseball is a streaky sport. A single player or a whole team can go through long stretches of success or failure.
For an example of the latter, look at the Nationals through the first four games of this road trip, when they lost all four and were outscored 36-6. But after last night’s 8-5 win over the Reds, which was led by Josiah Gray’s dominant start and Lane Thomas’ three home runs, the Nationals are hoping their fortunes have made a 180-degree turn and a new streak will start.
They say hitting can be contagious. Can good pitching have the same effect on a staff?
“Absolutely,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame press conference. “You know, the thing is, when it comes to hitting in any team that's struggling, you start the game and all of a sudden you find yourself trying to come back again. We did that yesterday, we did come back. But it was the innings after that with Josiah, where he beared down and kept us in the game, gave the guys some motivation. They went out there and they scored some more runs (for) him when he went out and he pretty much shut the door down. So that's kind of what we need.”
In Erick Fedde’s case, he’s trying to carry over Gray’s strong start into his own outing today after allowing six runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Mets on Monday. Martinez said Fedde just needs to forget about that outing and return to form today against the Reds.
“After his last start, I told him to put that one behind you,” Martinez said of Fedde. “You've been throwing the ball well. So let's get back to what he was doing really well, and that's pounding in the strike zone, using his cutter, his changeup effectively, and his fastball. So I'm expecting him to go out there and give us five, six innings and keep us in the ballgame. But other than last outing, he's been pitching unbelievable for us. So I want him to go out and continue to do that.”
Martinez is right. Fedde had been quietly pitching really well before Monday. In his five previous May starts, Fedde pitched to a 1.95 ERA while only surrendering two home runs over 27 2/3 innings.
In terms of the Nats offense, which has the sixth-best batting average in the majors at .252, Martinez just wants them to keep swinging those “dangerous” bats.
“I tell the guys, 'Hey, we give up a run or two the first thing, there's still a lot of baseball left,’ ” Martinez said. “ ‘We got a good enough offense that we can inch our way and come back and end up winning these games. So don't get down.' But when the wins aren't there all time, it gets kind of frustrating for them. But they gotta keep playing. We talk about that. And they do. They play hard 'til the last inning, and that's all you can ask.”
The Nats don’t want to get too low on themselves after tough losses. But is there such a thing as getting too high on themselves after a big win like Friday night's?
“Oh yeah, I want these guys to get a little high. That sounds funny, but yeah, I do,” Martinez said with a laugh. “I want these guys to have, you know, gotta have that good feeling going into today's game and continue to do what they did yesterday.”
* Stephen Strasburg does have a locker at Great American Ball Park, but the right-hander hasn’t arrived after his dominant rehab start with Triple-A Rochester last night. Martinez is hoping to talk with Strasburg later today.
“No, he's on his way,” Martinez said of Strasburg. “He worked out this morning in Rochester. We'll get him back here. Like I said, he'll come back here, go through his daily routine, throw a bullpen and then we'll assess where he's at. I'm going to talk to him. He won't get here 'til probably almost game time. So I'll probably talk to him after the game or tomorrow. But we'll see where he's at. The biggest thing now is his next bullpen and see how he feels.”
Strasburg pitched six shutout innings with one hit, one walk and four strikeouts on 83 pitches, 50 for strikes.
“He said he felt good,” Martinez said. “He had a great outing yesterday, so that's great. But like I said, we're almost at the finish line. We want to make sure that everything's well. And then we'll make a decision about what we're gonna do next.”
With Strasburg’s pending season debut, Evan Lee is available out of the bullpen today after throwing 67 pitches Wednesday in New York. Today would be his regular bullpen day, so the left-hander (the only one in the ‘pen after Josh Rogers landed on the 15-day injured list yesterday with a left shoulder impingement) should be good for 30-35 pitches if needed.
The only downside of Strasburg’s return is that it might bump Lee from the roster. But the Nationals haven’t made the decision yet.
“Yeah, Evan Lee, if we need him, will pitch out of the bullpen,” Martinez said. “Today's his bullpen day. So we're not gonna get him to throw a bullpen, he'll pitch out of the bullpen and then we'll go from there. Like I said, we got some things, if Stephen does pitch for us here, we'll have to make some decisions. But I want to see Evan Lee today, if we need him, to come out of the bullpen.”