WASHINGTON -- The first at-bat only required three pitches. Same for the second hitter. And after throwing the first strike to the third batter, reliever Kyle Finnegan realized he was closing in on something special.
“It wasn’t until the eighth and ninth [pitches] that I was actually fully aware of what was going on,” Finnegan said. “At that point I was just telling myself, 'At least give it a chance. Make sure these next two are in the zone and see what happens.'”
Mission accomplished. Finnegan threw the fifth immaculate inning in Nationals team history on Wednesday against the Braves. By definition, that is recording three strikeouts on nine pitches.
The right-hander retired Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson and William Contreras in the sixth inning of Washington’s 5-3 loss to Atlanta at Nationals Park.
“It still doesn’t feel real now that it’s happened,” Finnegan said. “I’m grateful for every day that I have here, and to be able to do something like that is something I’ll remember for the rest of my career.”
Finnegan joined Stephen Strasburg (June 3, 2019 vs. Marlins), Max Scherzer (June 5, 2018 vs. Rays and May 14, 2017 vs. Phillies) and Jordan Zimmermann (May 6, 2011 vs. Marlins) as the only Nationals pitchers to accomplish the feat.
Finnegan also recorded the 102nd immaculate inning in Major League history. The last player to do so was Zach Plesac with the Indians on Sept. 18, 2020, vs. the Tigers.
“For a game that’s been around that long, that’s pretty impressive,” starting pitcher Erick Fedde said. "It’s fun to see people be successful. He’s a great guy, so it’s awesome to see him dominate.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker described Finnegan’s performance as “really sharp” and “on the attack.” Here’s how Finnegan got it done against Atlanta’s Nos. 5-7 hitters:
• vs. Riley: 94.7 mph sinker, called strike; 96.2 mph sinker, foul tip; 89.2 mph slider, swinging strike
• vs. Swanson: 96.1 mph sinker, called strike; 88.4 mph splitter, foul; 92.6 mph sinker, swinging strike
• vs. Contreras: 95.9 mph sinker, called strike; 95.1 mph sinker, foul tip; 95.0 mph sinker, called strike
“I’m amazed that I was able to throw nine strikes in a row in general,” Finnegan said with a laugh. “I think tonight was my best stuff that I’ve had all year.”
It was another nod to the perseverance of Finnegan, who did not make his Major League debut until last season at age 28. Since then, he has earned a role in the bullpen as a reliable middle reliever.
Finnegan has stepped up in the absence of frequently-called-upon Wander Suero, who is on the injured list with a left oblique strain. Finnegan has posted a 3.55 ERA and leads the Nats’ relievers with 12 2/3 innings pitched over 13 games.
“He’s definitely gained a lot of confidence,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He’s not afraid to throw the ball over the plate, which is awesome coming out of the bullpen. He always wants the ball. … He’s one of those guys where I have all the faith in the world when he comes in to get outs for us.”
On this night, it was a very quick three outs.