Irvin shaky in close-to-home debut as Nats fall to Brewers

September 16th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- was in Triple-A when the Nationals took their only road trip of the season to Minnesota in April. After the Bloomington, Minn., native made his Major League debut on May 3, the next-closest trip wasn’t until four months later in Milwaukee. 

The weekend of Sept. 15 was highlighted on calendars. A cheering section of Irvin’s friends and family made the five-hour drive to watch Irvin get the start in the Nationals’ series opener against the Brewers on Friday at American Family Field. 

“It was really cool,” Irvin said after the Nationals’ 5-3 loss. “It’s just really special that they were able to share that moment with me. You wish the outing goes a lot better, and unfortunately it didn’t. But [I’m] just happy that they’re out there supporting me no matter what. You can feel that love from miles away, but when they’re actually here in person, it’s pretty special.”

The rookie right-hander pitched four scoreless frames with only one hit (a third-inning ground ball to Brice Turang), three walks and four strikeouts -- with his personal fans audible from behind the Nationals' dugout. 

“He was mixing up his pitches, attacking the zone,” said manager Dave Martinez. “I think he threw a lot of curveballs by design with these guys, but when you start doing that and you fall behind and you start walking, these guys will take their walks. You can see that when that happens, you get yourself in trouble. They’ve got some good hitters and they hit some home runs.” 

After Irvin issued a walk to Rowdy Tellez to open the fifth, he recorded back-to-back strikeouts against Turang and Andruw Monasterio to close in on posting another zero on the board.

But a walk to Christian Yelich put runners on first and second. Irvin then allowed a 456-foot, game-tying three-run blast to William Contreras. The no-doubter left the park at 109.7 mph. The next at-bat, Irvin gave up a go-ahead, 385-foot home run to Carlos Santana. 

The night ended for a disappointed Irvin trailing, 4-3, after throwing 102 pitches. 

“It stinks,” said Irvin. “The offense did what they do and have been doing kind of all year and they put up three runs early. It’s my job to go up there and secure that for us and get us deep into that ballgame, and I didn’t do that today. So, very frustrating.” 

Irvin had worked to limit the home runs to just one in his past four starts (23 innings). He had not surrendered multiple homers in a game since Aug. 12 against the Athletics.

“We got a three-run homer, and those are huge plays in the game no matter when they happen,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Irvin was throwing the ball well, and then one swing later it’s a tie game.”

Irvin’s season total has climbed to 118 1/3 innings in his first season in the pros. The Nationals have closely monitored his workload and health along the way, especially given Irvin missed the entire 2021 season because of Tommy John surgery. 

Martinez would like to see Irvin bounce back in his next start to near the conclusion of his rookie season on a high note. He lauded Irvin’s efficiency and strike-throwing, and he would like Irvin to work on “tak[ing] a mile or two” off his changeup to further distinguish it from his fastball.

“He is getting better, he is getting stronger,” said Martinez. “The more we can push him this year, the more we can allow him to go next year as well. We’ll keep an eye on him. This is a day-to-day thing with these guys right now.” 

Irvin also has a checklist of what he would like to accomplish before the end of the season. 

“Be very consistent,” he said. “Live in attack mode, and make guys earn it.”