Major League Baseball has suspended Nationals pitcher Sean Nolin five games and manager Davey Martinez one game after determining Nolin intentionally hit Braves slugger Freddie Freeman with a pitch Wednesday night in Atlanta.
Nolin, who was also fined an undisclosed amount, initially appealed his suspension and was to remain on the active roster until his case was heard, but the Nationals later announced the lefty dropped his appeal and began serving the suspension tonight. Martinez is serving his suspension tonight for the Nats’ series opener against the Pirates.
The announcement from MLB came about one hour before first pitch at PNC Park, after Martinez held his pregame Zoom session with reporters and made no mention of any potential discipline coming toward him or Nolin. Bench coach Tim Bogar, who already has been handling more duties than usual with Martinez physically limited while recovering from ankle surgery last week, will assume full managerial duties tonight.
The ruling, handed down by MLB senior vice president for on-field operations (and former Marlins general manager) Michael Hill, comes two days after Nolin threw back-to-back pitches at Freeman in apparent retaliation for Braves closer Will Smith plunking Juan Soto the previous night. Facing Freeman in the bottom of the first, Nolin threw a fastball behind the reigning National League MVP’s head, then drilled him in the right hip with his next pitch.
The umpiring crew convened and after a brief discussion ejected Nolin, who said a few words but didn’t appear to put up much of an argument. Because no official warnings had been issued prior to that moment, Martinez was not ejected as well.
Nolin afterward claimed both pitches slipped out of his hand, insisting he wasn’t attempting to send any message in the process: “No, I wasn’t.”
Martinez, who had a cordial conversation with Freeman at the end of the inning, insisted he didn’t instruct anyone to intentionally throw at the Braves first baseman.
MLB and Hill didn’t show much sympathy and handed down punishments that have become standard practice for such cases. The pitcher who retaliates against an opponent, and his manager, almost always are suspended for it. The instigator, on the other hand, rarely is.
So Smith faces no punishment for his drilling of Soto, which came two years after the Atlanta closer got upset at Soto for standing too close to the plate while he was warming up to pitch the ninth inning of a game at Truist Park. Soto promptly homered and glared at Smith, who then barked at him as he rounded the bases.
The two squared off against each other five more times between the end of last season and the first five months of this season without incident. Soto delivered a walk-off single off Smith on opening day this year at Nationals Park. In each instance, the game was close and Smith perhaps prioritized the outcome over a personal grudge.
But in the ninth inning Tuesday night, with the Braves leading by three runs, he nailed Soto in the ribs with a fastball, and the Nationals clearly were upset with him. That led to some extra interest in the first inning of Wednesday’s game, with onlookers curious if anyone would try to retaliate against Freeman, Atlanta’s No. 3 hitter.
Soto and Smith did meet again Thursday night, but the Braves intentionally walked the 22-year-old star with the game on the line.