Free passes hinder Nats: 'Just throw strikes'
It was Jon Lester’s shortest outing of the season, tossing just 3 2/3 innings in the series opener at Tropicana Field. After allowing a season-high four walks, he exited Tuesday’s game with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. Then, running out of the bullpen for the Nats for the 20th time this year was Wander Suero.
The right-handed reliever hoped to keep a run off the board and keep the game tied, pitching for the first time this season with the bases loaded. Suero fell behind in the count, 2-1, before inducing a Yandy Díaz flyout to center field for the final out of the inning. Suero was able to get the Nationals out of a jam, however it was the only out he recorded for Washington in the 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
When Suero took the mound again in the fifth inning, like Lester, free passes were his downfall. He allowed two consecutive walks and an RBI double to give the Rays the lead.
“I don’t like them at all,” manager Dave Martinez said regarding his club's eight walks overall. “I want those guys to come in and throw strikes. They’ve been good, and now all of a sudden we are starting to walk guys. When you walk those guys, runners are going to score, plain and simple. And we saw it tonight, again. We got to come in and throw strikes and let them put the ball in play.”
Tampa Bay owns the most walks by any AL team (244), however it also strikes out the most, leading MLB with 654. Washington needed its opponents to chase pitches in order to be successful, but between the starter and the bullpen, Nats pitchers recorded just eight strikeouts, only two of those from Lester.
“A lot of balls, just for whatever reason can find the strike zone with really anything,” said Lester on allowing the most walks in an outing since Sept. 3, 2019. “I fell behind counts, then once you fall behind you got to figure out a way to get back into counts, and I just wasn't able to do that. ... [So] you start pigeonholing yourself and getting predictable -- it makes things a lot harder.”
Lester reached 91 pitches in his 3 2/3 innings of work, leaving Martinez to head to his already-fatigued bullpen. Coming off of a full bullpen game on Sunday, the skipper needed his starter to pitch deep into the game to give Washington's relievers a rest -- a sentiment shared with every starter not named Max Scherzer this season.
“The whole thing is magnified when you're not scoring runs,” said Martinez. “[Pitchers] come in and try not to give up any runs. Just throw strikes. Let your defense play behind you and get outs.”
The Nationals' offense was quiet again, adding to its record of scoring one run or fewer in 14 games this season. Martinez stresses that trying to do too much at the plate has led to the lack of offense. However, it seems like the theme of “trying to do too much” has stretched into both pitching and defensive plays.
Ryan Zimmerman made a diving snag in the top of the fourth inning on a single by Manuel Margot. For the 36-year-old, the play reminded him of a routine catch he might have made daily in his earlier years. But when your team isn’t playing the way you want, you do everything you can to stop a run from scoring.
“There's another one of the balls that I feel like, if Jon threw his changeup 2 mph slower, he would have pitched six innings,” said Zimmerman. “They had three or four hits like that -- [they] kept innings going and got his pitch count pretty high.”