Parker dominates Astros for second MLB win (updated)

Given the circumstances, it was fair to wonder if Mitchell Parker’s impressive major league debut last week was a bit flukish. Was that five-inning victory before a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium as good as it was ever going to get for the Nationals’ 2020 fifth-round draft pick?

Given what he just accomplished today in his follow-up start against the Astros, it feels more appropriate to start wondering if this just might actually be the start of something really special.

With seven scoreless innings on only 73 pitches, Parker led the Nats to an easy 6-0 victory, improved to 2-0 as a big leaguer and authored Chapter 2 in what has suddenly become the most compelling – and unexpected – pitching story in recent club history.

"It doesn't seem like anything really fazes him," manager Davey Martinez said. "He goes out there and he challenges hitters. He competes. He's been giving us what we need."

The 24-year-old left-hander was in complete control throughout his home debut. He surrendered three hits (all singles). He allowed only one runner to reach scoring position. He didn’t issue a walk for the second straight outing. And he pounded the strike zone in a manner rarely seen in these parts.

Two starts into his nascent career, Parker is now 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.583 WHIP and a 12-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not bad for a kid from Albuquerque drafted out San Jacinto Junior College and owner of a 4.15 ERA and 1.401 WHIP in 76 career minor league appearances before he got the call last week.

How did Parker suddenly become such a proficient strike-thrower?

"Really, it was more of just a mental thing," he said. "It's a lot easier to fight from not (being) behind in the count. Just keep attacking and get strike one, that's all we're aiming for."

"He's got a really good curveball, a really good fastball. His (splitter) was really, really good today," Martinez said. "But everything was over the plate. He started doing that in spring training, and he was lights-out."

The unassuming Parker has done this against two of the supposed powerhouses lineups in baseball, though both the Dodgers and Astros have struggled at times early this season. And he’s done it with a simple three-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, splitter) that has so far befuddled some of the most accomplished hitters in the sport.

"Really, I'm trying to think about (the opponents) as little as I can I can before," he said. "Take it one pitch at a time and not put too much pressure (on myself)."

Parker’s gem today helped the Nationals secure another series win, their third in their last four attempts. They’ve won eight of their last 13 games and now head into a rematch with the Dodgers with a respectable 10-11 record on the season.

"Especially to do it two out of three in L.A., and then two of three at home against the Houston Astros," third baseman Nick Senzel said. "Our expectation is to go out there and win every game; if not, we've got to take series. But hopefully we can roll with this and take the momentum."

As they did in his debut Monday night, the Nationals staked Parker to an early lead. And once again, CJ Abrams got it started. His leadoff single actually gave him a chance to do something he hadn’t done since opening weekend in Cincinnati: steal second. In his defense, nine of Abrams’ last 10 hits had been for extra bases, so it’s not like opportunities to run had been prevalent.

With Abrams in scoring position, Jesse Winker’s single to left turned into an RBI single and a 1-0 lead. And after Lane Thomas walked, Luis García Jr.’s two-run single up the middle made it a 3-0 lead in the first.

"We try to score every inning, but definitely when you score the first inning it gives you a different sense of confidence throughout the game," García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "It carries on through the game, and it's just a different feeling."

Parker took over from there, picking up right where he left off in L.A. He opened that start by striking out Mookie Betts. He opened this one by striking out Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez in succession. Then he kept pumping strikes. And more strikes. And even more strikes.

The top half of each inning flew by, Parker getting even more efficient as he proceeded. He completed the first on 13 pitches, the second on nine pitches, the third on five pitches. By the time he completed the fifth, he had faced 17 Houston batters, retired 15 of them and thrown a grand total of 10 called balls.

"Just trying to have as quick an inning as we can," he said. "Keep the guys swinging, keep our lineup moving, score as many runs as we can."

"If you can't play behind him, you've got some issues," Davey Martinez said. "He works quick. You better be ready, because he wants to get the ball and go."

Parker had to work a bit harder in the sixth, finally putting a runner in scoring position. He responded by striking out Altuve and Kyle Tucker to strand the runner. Then he mowed down the middle of the Astros order in the seventh on only 10 pitches, recording two more strikeouts, including Chas McCormick on a high, 92-mph fastball to end the inning.

By that point, the Nationals had opened up a 6-0 lead. They tacked on two runs in the fifth thanks to a long-awaited, two-run, opposite-field single by Joey Meneses (his fourth hit in 24 hours). And when Senzel launched his first homer (and recorded his first RBI in the process) of the season in the sixth, there was little reason for Davey Martinez to worry about burning up his A bullpen.

Sticking with his publicly stated plan not to push young starters too much this early in the season, Davey Martinez pulled Parker after the seventh, despite his incredibly low pitch count. Dylan Floro and Matt Barnes finished it out, securing the win for a rookie left-hander who has taken his team by storm in the last week.

"The biggest thing is to build him up a little," Davey Martinez said of Parker, who became the first starter in Nationals history to complete seven or more scoreless innings on fewer than 80 pitches. "He went four (in his Triple-A start). He went five (last week in his major league debut). And we pushed him to seven (today). I was biting my lip, but I just couldn't do it to him. We need him for the long haul."

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