Mason Thompson had three days to think about his Nationals debut, time to sit in the bullpen and observe, time to get to know everyone, time to wonder how and when he would be called upon to take the mound for the first time.
The time finally came in the top of the sixth Monday night, in a game with the Phillies that was tied 1-1 at the time. And based on what the Nationals saw from the 6-foot-7 reliever they acquired from the Padres at the trade deadline for Daniel Hudson, they couldn’t have come away anything but encouraged.
Though he loaded the bases with two outs, Thompson showed some gumption in striking out Rhys Hoskins on three pitches to get out of the jam and ensure his Nats debut was a positive one.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Thompson said earlier in the day when he met reporters near the field. “Pretty unexpected being traded, but I’m excited to be here. They’ve welcomed me with open arms. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
After a hectic travel schedule that involved a trip from El Paso, Texas, to Austin to gather his belongings before he arrived in Washington, Thompson made it to Nationals Park just before Saturday night’s game against the Cubs.
Manager Davey Martinez didn’t want to throw him to the wolves right away, so he let Thompson get comfortable with his surroundings and new teammates.
Thompson watched Saturday and Sunday’s games from the bullpen, finding himself both appreciative of the time to settle in and antsy to actually pitch right away.
“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “You like to get in and get to know the guys, be around the group and just kind of take in the ballpark and everything. But at the same time, you’re itching to get in there and contribute.”
The opportunity came at last Monday night, moments after Andrew Stevenson’s pinch-hit homer tied the game 1-1. Thompson made quick work of J.T. Realmuto and Brad Miller, getting each to ground out. But then he deflected a comebacker from Alec Bohm toward shortstop Luis García, who couldn’t make the play, and then he surrendered another single to Didi Gregorius.
And when he walked Odúbel Herrera on four pitches to load the bases with two outs, Thompson now found himself in a dicey situation. He responded well, though, striking out Hoskins on three pitches, the last of which was a 96-mph sinker that moved way in on Hoskins’ hands.
That was a good primer on Thompson’s pitching style. He relies heavily on that sinker, only mixing in the occasional slider and changeup to keep hitters off-balance.
He also made his major league debut prior to Monday’s Nationals debut, appearing in four games for the Padres earlier this summer. That experience helped take some of the pressure off this outing.
“There’s definitely nerves coming over to a new organization, and a lot of high expectations and everything,” he said. “But at the same time, making my debut earlier this year was definitely helpful. It’s helped ease the nerves a lot and kind of ease me into the transition.”