We continue our conversation with Nationals pitching prospect Nick Raquet and get more information on his slider. A left-hander with his best pitch being the slider sounds familiar. How does it compare with Patrick Corbin’s slider?
“It’s definitely my go-to,” Raquet said. “I feel like if I’m in a pinch in any situation, I’m throwing my slider. It’s probably my best pitch. I kind of grip it and rip it. I’ve never actually talked to Patrick. I would assume he spins the hell out of it. I see he throws it for strikes. He can throw it to a back foot. It’s devastating. It moves so much on TV. I can’t imagine how devastating it must look from the box.
“It’s his bread and butter, for sure. It’s something that I definitely want to make my bread and butter, absolutely. I would love my slider to be that pitch for me. It tunnels off of everything else that I throw. It can come out of the same arm action as my sinker and my changeup so I think it can be a buckling pitch.”
And when Raquet, 23, gets in a jam in the count, he goes to the slider.
“It’s gotten big on me sometimes, which is great. I know I can throw it for strikes and I can put it where I want,” he said. “I’m very, very confident with it. It’s the kind of pitch that gets me back on track and gets me firing on the right cylinders and brings my mechanics back to a good place. Then I feel like I can throw everything else for strikes if I can throw my slider for a strike. It’s definitely an important pitch for me. I’m not sure if it’s quite as nasty as Corbin’s, but it’s definitely a goal of mine to always improve it and get it to be the best that I can get it.”
It was a long season for Raquet. From tweaking his mechanics early to adjusting his grip on his curveball, the southpaw went through a lot.
His time pitching in the Arizona Fall League was a good way to wrap up the season. Even though the results were not there (0-2, 8.49 ERA in 11 2/3 innings), Raquet said he valued the experience of meeting new teammates and coaches and learning from them as critical to his goal of becoming a major league pitcher.
The one factor that stood out for Raquet was coming into games as a reliever after being a starter for most of his career. This took time for him to adjust to mentally.
“I thought it was a good learning experience,” Raquet said. “It was definitely the tail end of a really long year. It was a new role for me coming out of the bullpen. It was a number of things. I think I lost track of how I was pitching out of the bullpen versus how I was pitching when I was starting, which shouldn’t have differed too much. When I go out there, it should be more or less like I’m competing against you.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s my first inning or my fourth inning, batter to batter, you have to be competitive. You have to get after every single guy. I think I kind of tried to change myself realizing that a bullpen role is a little bit different. I made it out to be more of a difference than I thought it was going to be.”
Raquet was not able to command the strike zone in the AFL as well as he did in the regular season. He walked nine batters in nine outings, his WHIP listed at 1.97. During the season, he had a WHIP of 1.32, which was his best since a 1.27 WHIP for low Single-A Hagerstown in early 2018.
“At the end of the day, I thought it was a really good opportunity,” Raquet said. “I thought I didn’t help myself. I was walking guys again, which was pretty uncharacteristic of what I was doing during the year. I thought my walk numbers have kind of been down every year in pro ball. I think that was kind of a hiccup. Because if I look at a lot of the pitfalls in the outings, I think a lot of it led from walks, like not getting ahead. Long year, not going to make any excuse about it, because the big league team played to the end of October, too. So it’s something that I got to learn how to do.”
Raquet ended up pitching in 34 games this season over a span of seven months. He had his endurance tested and realized what he will need to do to make it to an extended finish line in the future.
“Knowing I could go from April to October and still stay healthy and stay on track and feel like I burn out a little less every year in pro ball,” Raquet said. “Which means I think I can make it longer and longer. I’m working harder in the offseason. It was definitely a good challenge to head out there and see some unbelievable competition. Guys that you know are going to be in the big leagues this upcoming season. if not, the season after, probably all of them.”
He also benefited by having time to learn from several teammates, including a pair of rehabbing pitchers in the Giants’ Trevor Oaks and the Orioles’ Cody Carroll. Raquet learned about their mentality going into games and how they carried themselves.
“It was great to learn a lot from guys out there and have two big leaguers that were in our bullpen out there and talk to them and pick their brains,” Raquet said. “Even just other guys in the organization. I learned different pre-throw routines from guys. It was interesting to see different guys from different organizations. How they got ready, how they treated game day, how they worked out in the gym, how they conditioned, all that stuff.
“You get so used to seeing the same guys every day, so it’s nice to see guys from the Yankees organization or the Rangers and see how their organizations do things and what works for them.”
And when thinking about results of a game or an outing, positive or negative, Raquet remembered something his pitching coach always told him from day one: You either win or you learn.
“That’s another thing Sam Narron would say to me,” Raquet said. “It was an awesome experience, something I’ll never forget, regardless of the outcome. I’ve literally put that behind me, focusing on the positive parts of the year and bringing that all into next year.”