ARLINGTON, Texas – Jackson Tetreault made his major league debut 12 days ago not necessarily based on performance, but more so based on the Nationals’ desperate need for a fill-in starter who was on schedule. Tetreault, who owned a 4.19 ERA at Triple-A Rochester, fit the bill and thus was summoned to face a Braves lineup that pounded him for seven runs in four innings.
The Nats could’ve sent the 26-year-old right-hander back to Rochester after that, but Davey Martinez believed he earned the right to make another start. And now, after successive standout performances, the manager has no reason to want to send his young pitcher back anytime soon.
"This kid comes up here, and he's very much under control," Martinez said. "He's got a good idea what he wants to do. And he works every day. We'll get him back out there in five days. He's done well."
With six-plus innings of one-run ball this afternoon, Tetreault picked up right where he left off last Sunday against the Phillies, this time earning his second career win in a 6-4 victory over the Rangers that turned way more tense than it needed to be.
Holding a five-run lead entering the ninth, Martinez asked Francisco Perez to finish it off and allow closer Tanner Rainey a chance to rest. Perez, though, didn't retire any of the three batters he faced in his first appearance in nine days, all of them scoring thanks to Nathaniel Lowe's RBI single and Jonah Heim's two-run homer. That forced Rainey into the game for a surprise save situation, which he converted.
"Very frustrating," said Martinez, who also had Kyle Finnegan (who was supposed to be off after pitching the previous two days) warming up at one point. "When we've got leads like that, I know they don't pitch much, but they've got to get outs for us. They're a big part of our bullpen. They've got to come in and get outs."
The lone run charged to Tetreault, by the way, scored after he departed in the bottom of the seventh, ending a personal streak of 14 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run for a rookie who did not appear on any organizational top prospects list.
Whether this out-of-nowhere run is sustainable remains to be seen. What isn’t up for debate is the matter of Tetreault’s immediate future. He’s not going anywhere.
"Every time I go out there, I'm expecting to win," he said. "I believe I deserve to be up here, and I belong up here. Whenever I go out there, I'm just trying to compete for the team and trying to win for the team. That's really my mentality every time I'm out there, and I'm super grateful every time Davey hands me the ball and sends me out there."
This outing was merely the latest in a surprisingly dominant string of them by a Nationals rotation that had been in shambles about a week-and-a-half ago. Over the last seven games, though, their starters have combined for a 1.52 ERA, with Tetreault and Josiah Gray each accounting for two of those appearances
Not that Tetreault needed it, but the Nationals supplied with way more early offensive support than they had supplied any other member of the rotation in a while. (Actually, they hadn’t done this since last Sunday against the Phillies, when their starter was … Tetreault.)
Just about everyone who came up to bat against Rangers starter Glenn Otto made loud contact. The first five batters who put the ball in play all produced exit velocities over 100 mph, with Nelson Cruz’s single, Yadiel Hernandez’s sacrifice lineout and Lane Thomas’ double all driving in runs to give the Nats a 3-0 lead.
They kept going in the second, scoring three more runs thanks to RBI hits from Josh Bell and Cruz, who in his first two at-bats of the afternoon was 2-for-2 with three RBIs. And they could’ve extended the lead beyond 6-0 if not for two runners getting thrown out at second base during the inning: Riley Adams was caught stealing on what looked like a botched hit-and-run with Cesar Hernandez at the plate, then Cruz was thrown out trying to stretch his two-out hit into a double.
No matter, because the six early runs were more than enough on this day.
"It feels great," Bell said. "I think it allows us to take a step back and allow our starter to go out and do what he did today. Lights out."
Indeed, the six-run lead allowed Tetreault to pitch with comfort. The young right-hander got himself into a couple of early jams but pitched his way out of both of them, inducing a double-play grounder out of Corey Seager in the bottom of the first and then striking out Jonah Heim and Brad Miller in succession to strand a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the second.
Tetreault was on cruise control from there, allowing only one Texas batter to reach base from the third through the sixth, which ended with his pitch count still a modest 87. With this performance, Tetreault earned the right to take the mound for the seventh for the second time in a week.
"I wanted to see how he would react," Martinez said.
Though he took the mound for the seventh, he didn’t finish the inning. Nor did he record another out. Back-to-back hits brought Martinez out from the dugout to take the ball from his young starter and give it to Erasmo Ramirez, who would allow one inherited runner to score but escape the inning without any more damage and keep Tetreault in line to earn his second win.
"When (Martinez) came out, I tried to hang onto the ball," the rookie said with a laugh. "But he was like: 'You're done.' Alright."