Adon takes perfecto into 6th in unexpected gem

August 6th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- The box score of the Nationals' 7-3 win over the Reds on Saturday afternoon will tell you a lot. It will tell you that Washington scored six runs off NL Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Abbott. It will tell you that Lane Thomas went 2-for-4 with two RBIs to continue his domination of the Reds. It will tell you that pitched a quality start, struck out seven and earned the win.

It won’t tell you that for 5 2/3 innings on Saturday at Great American Ball Park, Adon was perfect.

Against all odds, the right-hander, who entered the game with a career 6.72 ERA, retired the first 17 batters he faced before allowing two singles and a home run and finishing his day by inducing a groundout.

“Curveball was great, changeup was good, but his fastball was key. You know, keep locating his fastball, keeping the ball down,” manager Dave Martinez said. “So he did everything we've asked him to do, and that was awesome.”

From his first batter of the afternoon, it was clear that the Adon on the mound was not the Adon who went 1-12 in 14 starts with the Nationals last season. He struck out Elly De La Cruz on four pitches -- two fastballs and, surprisingly, two curveballs. Adon introduced the curveball to his mix in the Majors in 2022, but he only used it 23.2 percent of the time that year. Facing TJ Friedl in the first, he put away the center fielder on a foul-bunt strikeout on the curveball.

As Adon worked a full count against Will Benson in the sixth, catcher Riley Adams called for a fastball, Adon's primary pitch. But Adon shook him off until they landed on a curveball. Benson swung at the pitch just below the zone and grounded it to first baseman Joey Meneses, who flipped it to Adon for the first out of the inning.

“Just little moments like that throughout you could tell that he had confidence in all his stuff and was ready to throw it any time,” Adams said. “It's fun as a catcher when you can feel that.”

In total, Adon threw two fewer curveballs (35) than he did four-seamers (37). Using the two pitches almost equally was something the righty had never done before, at least at the Major League level.

“It's the last month that I've had good feel for it,” Adon said via translator Octavio Martinez. “I felt like I've been getting a lot of outs with it, and if I'm out there pitching and I feel like I'm getting a lot of outs, then I'm just going to throw it more. Simple as that.”

Adon was commanding his pitches well, but by the sixth inning -- even with a perfect game looming -- he was running out of gas. He went from perfection to just quality in three batters. Adon’s first baserunner of the day was the Reds’ No. 9 hitter, Luke Maile, who singled with two outs. After De La Cruz reached on an infield single, Adon surrendered a three-run homer to Friedl. As he approached his pitch count -- Martinez said he expected to leave Adon in for 80 to 85 pitches -- he began to cramp up.

“In that sixth … I started cramping, and that's where I felt it,” Adon said, pointing to his hand. “But no one wants to come out of a perfect game.”

Despite the three runs, Adon showed the promise he had as the Nationals’ No. 8 prospect in 2022. He opened that season in Washington’s rotation, but he was sent down to Triple-A Rochester on June 8 after recording a 6.95 ERA in his first 12 starts. He made two more spot starts for the Nationals before spending the rest of the season in the Minors.

Adon made two appearances out of the bullpen for the Nationals this July, but he’s spent the majority of 2023 in Triple-A.

“The last time he was out, I know he pitched out of the bullpen, but he threw the ball a lot better,” Martinez said. “He went down there and worked on some things, then came back here and polished up a lot of different things.”

Adon wasn’t supposed to start on Saturday -- he was only called up in place of Trevor Williams, who is on the bereavement list -- but his showing solidified his future with the big league club. Before the game, Martinez said that Adon’s role with the Nationals would be determined based on his performance.

After the game?

“We actually made a move tonight. ... We'll keep Adon,” Martinez said. “What we do with him next remains to be seen, but I like what I saw today.”