Early Saturday afternoon, it looked like the Nationals had a good approach to their matchup with right-hander Taylor Clarke.
But then Clarke retired 12 of the next 16 batters he faced. He allowed only four singles after the first inning, no more runs and struck out five batters to keep his club in the game. The D-backs offense answered the call, scoring four runs over the next three innings to take a 6-3 lead after four.
The D-backs eventually ran away with the contest, beating the Nats 10-3.
“First inning, we wanted to get the ball up, we got some balls up and then after that first inning he kind of settled down and started throwing a better breaking ball, keeping the ball down,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “We hit some balls hard but couldn’t get nothing going.”
Clarke, who grew up in Ashburn, Va., playing baseball for Broad Run High School, then one season at Towson University before transferring to the College of Charleston, ended up going 4 2/3 innings in his first start of the season. The 26-year-old had a reported 250 family, local friends and fans make the trip to watch him pitch at Nationals Park. Clarke allowed only those three early runs on seven hits, walking none and striking out six on 97 pitches.
The Nats had a chance to get back in the game against Clarke in the third inning. Turner led off with a single and Soto singled with two away. But Adams’ line drive was right at center fielder Ketel Marte, ending the opportunity.
“It’s tough,” Adams said. “I think those first two innings we put together some good ABs. He made some mistakes and we didn’t miss them. And then he got through a clean inning and ... he kind of settled into a groove and started making pitches.”
Adams homered and then hit the line drive to center field. He finished the game 1-for-4 with a strikeout in the eighth against the D-backs bullpen.
“I feel like I saw the ball pretty well today, besides the last AB, but I think for the most part my timing was pretty good and got my A-swing off on some strikes,” he said.
Eaton’s sacrifice fly in the first got the Nats on the board, cutting the lead down to 2-1. But then Clarke struck out Eaton in the third inning with fastballs and a slider. Clarke got him again with swinging strike three in the fifth thanks to a mix of curveballs, the slider, fastballs and one changeup.
“From my own standpoint, he was almost 30 percent changeup on the report and he threw me one the whole day,” Eaton said. “Threw me in really well, hit his spots decent but I feel as a hitter and as a staff from a hitting standpoint when you see a guy first time it’s more of a feel out process.
“You’re trying to find his arm slot, you’re trying to find what he does correctly. He’s a good pitcher and hits his spots. I think the advantage comes the second time around when you kind of have a more familiar face to him. You make adjustments.”
The frustration slowly crept in after that first frame. Clarke started to mix his pitches well. The D-backs also put the pressure on by taking a 5-3 lead and adding on to 6-3 after four frames. Eaton was surprised they could not get any more offense going.
But the Nats were unable to get more than one hit per inning the rest of the way. The slow burn reminded Eaton of the anxiety the Nationals felt earlier in the season when they could not overcome deficits as games wore on.
“That’s what me (and) Matty were saying, is it started off really well,” Eaton said. “He made the adjustment. Strasburg didn’t really have his A-game, so I thought we were chasing a little bit. Just almost like the beginning of the year, you’re kind of trying to do too much type deal. You’re trying to get on base, get things going, you’re trying to drive in runs, trying to keep up, so to speak, and he really pitched backward to what our report had said.”