'It's pretty awesome': Irvin thrilled after solid MLB debut

May 4th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- walked into the Nationals' clubhouse on Wednesday afternoon, stood steps from his locker to get his view in frame, snapped a photo to share with his family and sat down to soak in his new surroundings. He was 3 1/2 hours away from the moment he had been envisioning for the past five years. 

The 26-year-old right-hander made his Major League debut Wednesday evening in the Nationals’ 2-1 victory against the Cubs at Nationals Park.

“There’s been a lot of bumps and bruises along the way,” Irvin, a 2018 fourth-round Draft pick of the Nationals, said. “It feels great. I think it says a lot about perseverance, and I think every single guy in this locker room could tell you the same thing -- getting here is no easy task and you only debut once, so it’s pretty awesome.” 

Irvin, ranked as the Nationals’ No. 20 prospect by MLB Pipeline, threw 4 1/3 innings, allowing one run off two hits and four walks while striking out three. He worked a pitch mix of 35 percent curveballs, 36 percent four-seam fastballs, 16 percent changeups and 14 percent sinkers.

“What I’ve known about Jake is that he’s very poised,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He goes out there, he gets to the next pitch, he doesn’t get rattled. He stayed within himself, he stayed poised and kept us in the ballgame. I thought that was pretty awesome.” 

Irvin dealt 45 of his 81 pitches for strikes, but the first one did not go as planned. He hit Cubs leadoff batter Nico Hoerner in the shoulder with a mislocated sinker. Irvin shrugged it off, and he fanned Dansby Swanson in the next at-bat. 

“I’ve got to imagine I’m one of few to do that, right?” Irvin said with a chuckle. “I can’t imagine many other guys have plunked the first guy, first pitch in their debut. So just laugh it off, next hitter.” 

Irvin needed 28 pitches against six batters to complete his first Major League inning, but he got into a rhythm to toss a pair of 1-2-3 frames in the second and fourth innings. He credited catcher Keibert Ruiz for being “a calming presence” during the outing.

Irvin’s debut concluded in the fifth, when Martinez called to reliever Andrés Machado after Irvin walked two of the first three batters.

“Hats off to him,” said closer Kyle Finnegan, who earned the save. “We all know that debuts are a coin flip. It’s a long, stressful day, and he went out there and just had a professional approach. … To seal a win in his debut and let him experience the atmosphere of a clubhouse after a win, it’s something really special. I’m just glad we were able to get it done today.”

Irvin became the Nationals’ 25th homegrown starter to make his big league debut with the team. The Nats selected Irvin out of Oklahoma, where he played his final season as teammates with a freshman Cade Cavalli. He spent 2019 in Low-A, and he was selected to the Nationals’ 60-player pool at the alternate training site in '20.

But Irvin underwent Tommy John surgery in October 2020, and missed the entire '21 season. He did not return to the mound until April 2022, when he bounced back to make 24 starts (103 1/3 frames) across the High-A and Double-A levels. He held opponents to one run or less in half of his starts and ranked sixth among Nationals Minor League pitchers in strikeouts (107).

The Nats protected Irvin last fall from the Rule 5 Draft, and he joined the team in Major League camp this spring. He impressed in Florida by attacking the zone and delivering his fastballs for strikes. 

Irvin had made five starts (2-2, 5.64 ERA, 22 1/3 innings) to begin the season with Triple-A Rochester. After righty Chad Kul was placed on the 15-day IL (right foot metatarsalgia) on Monday, the Nats announced on Tuesday night Irvin would fill the spot in the rotation on Wednesday. Irvin described the news of his big league callup as “a whirlwind of emotions.” 

There was enough time for 12 friends and family to make the trip from Minnesota to Washington to see Irvin’s debut. After sending them a photo of his Major League locker hours earlier, Irvin looked for them as he walked off the field, attempting to make a heart with one hand and his glove on the other. 

“This is something that you dream of since the day you pick up a baseball,” said Irvin. “I’m on top of the world.”