PITTSBURGH – Joan Adon has been a mixed bag of results since he rejoined the Nationals rotation as its sixth man in early August. But the one constant was his results on the road.
For whatever reason, his two best outings came in his two starts away from Nationals Park. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning on Aug. 5 in Cincinnati, settling for a quality start of three runs in six frames, and then took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Aug. 25 in Miami, settling for six shutout innings.
But Adon could not keep that streak going as he got knocked around by the Pirates in an eventual 5-1 loss in front of an announced crowd of 9,222 on a cool night at PNC Park.
As has been the case in previous rough outings, Adon struggled with walks and home runs tonight. Between those two starts in Cincinnati and Miami, he issued no walks and only allowed one homer. In his four other starts (all at home), he surrendered eight walks and two homers.
Adon issued a career-high six walks (one intentional) and a two-run home run to Joshua Palacios on his way to being charged with eight hits and four runs in just four innings plus three batters.
“Just bad. Bad overall," Adon said of his performance after the game, via interpreter Octavio Martinez.
In the first inning, Adon gave up two hits, but he stranded both runners, and for the second straight game a Nats starter didn’t allow a first-inning run. That started a new streak after Nats starters went 10 consecutive games of allowing a run in the first inning.
But the walks started haunting him in the second inning. A leadoff walk to Endy Rodríguez set up Palacios’ two-run homer to give the Pirates an early 2-0 lead. Adon left a 95 mph sinker low but right over the plate for the former National to hit 410 feet to center field.
“How can I tell you? I don't even know how to explain it," Adon said. "I felt good, but they were just hitting my pitches. They were seeing everything very well.”
The Nationals claimed Palacios off waivers from the Blue Jays in April 2022 and he played in 29 games for them last year. But he was left exposed in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and the Pirates selected him in December.
“He's a lot quieter hitting," manager Davey Martinez said of his former outfielder. "He's not jumping as much. He's getting good pitches to hit. And he's swinging the bat well. He's swinging the bat very aggressively. But I noticed that he's more under control a little bit and staying behind the baseball.”
Adon would load the bases in each of his next two innings and then gave up hits to the first three batters in the fifth to make it a 3-1 lead. Robert Garcia entered from the bullpen, issued a walk and allowed an inherited runner to score to close out Adon’s final pitching line at the four runs on 93 pitches, 57 for strikes.
“He just couldn't get the ball in the strike zone," Davey Martinez said. "He fell behind. He just kept going back to breaking balls and breaking balls, not really attacking hitters. So we'll sit down with him the next couple of days and get him back squared away. But his stuff was fine. Like I said, he couldn't find the strike zone when he needed to.”
“I honestly didn't feel like I had a bad night with my command," Adon said. "I felt like it was more of their game plan was pretty good and they knew how to attack me.”
Even after Adon departed the game, the Nationals struggled with preventing bases on balls. Garcia and Amos Willingham each allowed two over the three innings they covered. Between the third and seventh inning, the Nationals let the Pirates load the bases four times. Given how many times they left the bases loaded – the Pirates left a total of 15 men on base and went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position – tonight’s final score could have been a lot worse.
“Same thing," Davey Martinez said of Garcia. "He looked like his mechanics were a little off. He was opening up a little bit too soon. He's a guy that could pound the strike zone, so today was kind of uncharacteristic with him. So we'll talk to him tomorrow and try to get him back, hone in on throwing strikes. He's a strike-thrower.”
The offense struggled too, and could not follow up the three-homer performance it put up last night.
In what was supposed to be another bullpen game for the Pirates, the Nationals offense could not get to “opener” Bailey Falter, who came into the game 1-1 with a 4.02 ERA in seven games, four starts.
Falter only needed 67 pitches to complete six innings of one-run ball against the Nats. Ildemaro Vargas’ RBI single to left in the fourth was the only run the visiting team managed tonight while only recording six hits and drawing two walks.
“One inning we hit every ball, probably, over 100 miles an hour," Davey Martinez said. "So we're just unlucky some games. And then their bullpen came in and they're pretty good."
Sure enough, the Nationals hit 10 balls with exit velocities of 100 mph or higher. Five of those balls came in the fourth inning, but only two of those resulted in hits and scored their only run on the night. And all five of those fourth-inning balls had an expected batting average of .350 or higher.
“It could have been differently," said Joey Meneses, who had two hits with a double on the night. "I just can't tell you that because of those hard-hit balls we're gonna win the game. A lot of things that can change the game, the complexion of the game, and get a rally going or what have you. But I just can't tell you that because of that we're gonna win the game.”
In a way, the Nationals were fortunate that tonight’s game wasn’t uglier. If they give up that many free bases and load the bases that many times to better teams, they will likely see their run differential change in the wrong direction.
"We just got to come back and try to go 1-0 tomorrow," Davey Martinez said. "I like the way we're swinging the bats. Like I said, we hit first and we walk second, so we're gonna be aggressive.”