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Nats being patient as pitchers ramp up

@jessicacamerato
March 5, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There is a progression that happens during Spring Training for starting pitchers, especially in the case of the Nationals following their World Series marathon. Washington put each starter on a schedule to account for the long postseason. Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg, as examples, didn’t

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There is a progression that happens during Spring Training for starting pitchers, especially in the case of the Nationals following their World Series marathon.

Washington put each starter on a schedule to account for the long postseason.
Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg, as examples, didn’t make their debuts until last week. Then once they get on the mound, their activity is tracked closely by the team.

That means the box scores don’t necessarily reflect how the Nationals evaluate each game. Manager Dave Martinez didn’t assess Washington’s 11-0 loss to St. Louis on Thursday night for its lopsided outcome. Instead, he tuned into how the starter Corbin and the rest of the bullpen (eight pitchers took the mound) fared at this point in Spring Training.

“I’m watching the pitching and watching their workload, watching location, how many quality pitches they make,” Martinez said. “Today we struggled a little bit. Location was not very good.”

The Nats are in round two of appearances for their starters, expanding their outings from two to three innings. Pitch counts also have been bumped from the 30s to the low 50s. The team is keeping in mind that its championship-winning staff threw 153 frames in the playoffs and had an abbreviated offseason.

Meanwhile, the pitchers are trying to establish a rhythm without rushing back into regular season form. On Thursday, Corbin allowed four hits, three runs -- including a home run -- and a walk while striking out five over three innings. He increased his pitches from the high 80s to the low-90 mph range, and worked on his curveball. This is a point in Spring Training when there are plenty of other boxes to check other than balls and strikes.

“I think the biggest thing for me is just feeling good coming out of it,” Corbin said. “Not really overdoing it out there -- you don’t want something to happen. I felt today I stayed under control. I felt the ball was coming out a little better today than last outing, and I feel good.”

Two weeks into game action, pitchers still are getting back into the swing of things. For players like Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson, they’re only in week one of their Spring Training appearances. Doolittle threw 10 of his 15 pitches for strikes in his debut Sunday, but surrendered three runs in one inning on Thursday. Hudson allowed two runs in his first spring game on Monday, and four runs in one-third of an inning against the Cardinals.

Asked if the pair of veterans are playing catch up, Martinez said, “A little bit. But I still like where they’re at. I still believe it’s early for those guys. I’ve seen Doo last year come out and throw 87 [mph]. He’s up to 90 already, which is kind of nice, topping 91.”

Martinez’s plan for Doolittle and Hudson, like the rest of the staff, is to get them more reps. As their appearances become more regular (and in the case of the starters, longer), he expects to see a shift in results on the mound.

“As they get closer, the adrenaline starts really kicking,” Martinez said. “Those last two or three outings are the ones you really hone in on, for me, and really concentrate and see what’s going on. I still believe that a lot of these guys are still working through some winter things and it’s tough. It’s like a hitter’s timing. I always say that pitchers have to work on their timing as well. That’s what they’re going through right now.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.