LOS ANGELES – If you woke up this morning without having watched Tuesday night’s game and looked at Jake Irvin’s pitching line, you probably weren’t impressed. The Nationals rookie gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings, taking the loss as his team fell to the Dodgers, 9-3.
Irvin’s outing, to be sure, was not a particularly good start. But it might not have been as bad as the final line indicated. And if nothing else, the process that got him to that final line was exactly what he and the team wanted.
“I thought Irvin did a much better job today,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Only one walk. That was very encouraging.”
Irvin had been plagued by the free passes in more recent starts. He issued four walks in four innings against the Padres last week. Prior to that, he issued four walks in 2 2/3 innings against the Tigers.
That wasn’t the case this time, even against a potent Dodgers lineup. Irvin’s one and only walk came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, to the second-to-last batter he faced in the game. He wound up throwing 61 of his 94 pitches for strikes, by far his best strike rate in his six big league starts.
“I’ve been really disappointed with the way I’ve allowed the free pass in the last couple outings,” he said. “I made it a point this week to make sure that didn’t happen. One walk is definitely encouraging, but there’s still room to grow.”
Indeed, while Irvin did throw more pitches over the plate, he also allowed a lot of loud contact. That included a leadoff homer by Jason Heyward in the bottom of the second on a curveball that might’ve been well-located to most hitters but not as much to Heyward, who has always had the ability to reach out and drive a pitch just off the plate.
It also included a string of four hits in the bottom of the third, with three runs eventually scoring.
The best thing Irvin did, though, was buckle down after that. In danger of getting pulled early again, he instead kept himself in the game through the fifth by retiring eight of the last 10 batters he faced and not letting the Dodgers score again off him.
“Just trying to make pitches, keep us in the ballgame as long as I can,” he said of his strategy after the third. “Sometimes you’ve really got to hone in on that pitch-to-pitch focus. And when you run into trouble like that, I think that’s kind of what I did.”
Big picture, Irvin still finds himself in a downward cycle. He owns a 1-3 record and 5.67 ERA in six starts overall, but that ERA balloons to 8.82 in his last four games, during which time he has allowed 31 batters to reach base in only 16 1/3 innings.
There doesn’t appear to be reason to think he’s in immediate danger of losing his job. Remember, the Nationals stuck with a struggling Joan Adon for 12 starts last season before finally sending him down to Triple-A Rochester. Irvin is only halfway there, and he’s arguably shown more positive traits than Adon ever did.
But the 26-year-old is going to need to show he can bounce back and deliver another quality start at some point in the near future. The way he handled Tuesday night’s game, avoiding total disaster and salvaging the outing as best he could, was perhaps evidence he can do that same in the bigger picture.
“For the most part, it was encouraging to watch him get through it and come back out the next two innings and pitch well,” Martinez said. “For me, it was a learning moment. Hopefully he takes that into his next start.”