Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats blow late lead, drop 2 of 3 in Cincy; Home opener today in D.C.


Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ series finale with the Reds in GABP…

BLOWN SAVE:

Nationals’ rookie Trey Lipscomb homered for the first time in the majors to break up a 3-3 tie in the top of the seventh inning in Washington’s series finale with Cincinnati’s Reds on Sunday afternoon in Great American Ballpark.

Then Lane Thomas hit a sac fly to make it a two-run lead in the top of the eighth, and the visiting team handed the ball to closer Kyle Finnegan in the bottom of the ninth.

Finnegan got two outs on nine pitches, but Reds’ infielder Jonathan India battled in a 10-pitch at-bat and kept hope alive for the home team with a double on a 96.6 MPH fastball inside, then Will Benson clobbered a first-pitch splitter up in the zone, tying it up with an absolute bomb of a 411-foot home run to center.

In the next at-bat, Christian Encarnacion-Strand hit a 1-0 splitter up in the zone out to left field for a walk-off winner, 6-5 Reds.

“That’s tough,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after his club dropped 2 of 3 in the season-opening series in Cincy.

“3-2 [count], two outs, double, homer, homer. That’s how the game ended. So that’s tough. But you know what? The last two games I’m pleased about how we played the game. We played hard, we played tough. It’s just unfortunate. When you get a chance to go into the ninth inning with your closer, usually good things happen. So, tonight it didn’t happen, so we get to go home and have a home opener tomorrow, and go 1-0 tomorrow.”

“It’s a tough one,” Finnegan told reporters in GABP. “Two mistakes on a pitch that I usually execute pretty well. It hurts a little bit.

“We had a chance to take the series and get some momentum heading back home. I’m just ready to get back out there and put this one behind me.”

Asked how he puts it behind him and moves on from an outing like that, Finnegan explained he has to build on the things he’s been doing well.

“I’ve been feeling good,” the Nationals’ 32-year-old reliever said. “Keep building off what I’ve been doing good, and learn from that situation when I’m going to use that pitch, you’ve got to make sure that you execute it.


“That can’t happen there. So next time I’m going to make sure that I get it done.”

The issue with the pitches in question?

“Just location right there,” Martinez said. “Two balls up in the zone. He’s just got to keep his head up. We’ve got a long season, so he’ll be back out there, and we got to keep playing the way we’re playing. We’re playing hard. We got some good situational hitting, we did some really good things, so we just got to keep going.”

“Just location mainly,” Finnegan said, echoing his manager. “It’s got to be on the plate and down below the strike zone. I’m not trying to throw necessarily throw it for a strike there, and it just kind of floated on me and fell right over the plate, and they did some damage.”

IRVIN MAKES 2024 DEBUT:

Jake Irvin made his first two appearances of the spring in relief, piggybacking with starter MacKenzie Gore, and the 27-year-old starter struggled, with two hit batters, four Ks, two hits and one run allowed in two innings the first time out, and then a total of five hits, two walks, and seven runs, six earned, allowed in 1 2⁄3 innings pitched his second time on the mound in Spring Training.

“We’ve got to get him to relax a little bit,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after Irvin’s second outing.

“He’s working on a bunch of different secondary pitches. I’m going to sit down and talk to him: His next outing, just get the ball in the zone and work ahead.”

A 2018 4th Round pick, Irving made 24 starts total for the Nationals in 2023, with a 4.61 ERA, 5.31 FIP, 54 walks, 99 Ks, and a .255/.340/.431 line against in 121 IP, with a strong run late in the season during which he put up a 2.65 ERA, a 4.64 FIP, and a .226/.300/.387 line against in a six-start stretch between early August and early September.

The conversation after the second outing was a simple one.

“Work on the stuff you need to work on, but do it in the bullpen,” Martinez said, as quoted on MASN.

“When you’re in the game, you’re here to compete. I need you to forget about everything and start getting some outs. And he took it to heart.”

In three starts which followed, Irvin threw 15 scoreless innings, giving up just four hits and two walks while striking out 13.

“He kind of just got my focus back on competing, which was the kick in the ass that I needed,” Irvin said of Martinez’s advice.

“I respect the hell out of him. His word goes a long way with me. It was good to hear that from him. I made the adjustment, and now it’s about competing.”

“He’s worked all Spring Training to get better,” Martinez said after Irvin’s final Grapefruit League outing.

“And he’s throwing the ball really well.”

Going into his 2024 regular season debut, his manager was hoping for more of the same from Irvin, explaining how his success was a result of throwing strikes.

“It was more attacking the zone. He was pounding strikes after strikes. I look up there and six innings, 71 pitches, he’d done really well,” Martinez said. “That’s what he can do when his stuff is really good. And in the spring, towards the end, he’s really done that. It’s all about throwing strikes, getting hitters in swing mode. Another guy that for me has to keep the ball down. He can elevate in certain situations, but for the most part everything works when he keeps the ball down.”

The next step for Irvin?

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds
Photo by Jason Mowry/Getty Images

“Consistency. Attacking the strike zone. Staying away from the big innings. That’s the big thing for him,” Martinez explained.

“He threw the ball really well at the end of Spring Training, so I told him, ‘Let’s build off of that, let’s attack the strike zone, get ahead, and try to finish within 3-4 pitches.’”

Irvin tossed two scoreless to start on Sunday, but back-to-back walks, and back-to-back groundouts brought in the Reds’ first run, 1-1, and an RBI double put the home team up.

A two-out triple in the fourth and RBI single made it a 3-1 game.

Irvin got through the fifth, but he was done at that point, having thrown 80 pitches total, 46 for strikes, with seven hits, two walks, and three earned runs allowed in the outing.

What changed as the game went along?

“I just wasn’t in attack mode as much as I was in the first couple (innings),” Irvin said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the Nationals rallied to take a lead then blew it with closer Kyle Finnegan on in the ninth.

“I’ve got to get back in there and make guys earn it.”

His velo dipped as he got deeper in the outing too, which his manager said was tied to an issue with the starter’s mechanics.

“He started to get a little quick, he started to open up,” Martinez said.

“He started to pull everything, so we’ll go back to him, we’ll talk to him, we’ll work on some things in the bullpen again. But [after] the first inning, you’re going to lose velo when you start doing that. He was yanking everything, and he just got a little quick. So we just got to get him to settle down a little. He was amped up the first inning, but after that, just settle down, know who you are, and he’s got to finish. But he gave us five innings.”

ABRAMS ON BASE = POSITIVE SIGN:

CJ Abrams went 0 for 4 with two Ks in the 2024 season opener, but the Nationals’ 23-year-old shortstop went 1 for 2 with three walks, a triple, three stolen bases, and three runs scored in the Nationals’ 7-6 win in their second game of three with the Reds in Cincinnati.

The three free passes were, for Washington’s manager Davey Martinez, a sign Abrams really understands what he needs to do to be successful.

“100%,” Martinez said after the Nationals rallied and evened things up with the Reds in the season-opening series.

“And we talk about that all the time. Get the ball in the zone, take your walks, and when you do that, you’re going to hit. You’re going to hit. He did a great job today, got on base, stole a couple big bases for us, triple in a big moment, but he’s got to understand, when he gets the ball in the zone he’s going to hit the ball hard, so he’s got to limit his chases.”

“Davey tells me if I walk, it’s a double,” Abrams told reporteres on Saturday, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato.

“So I try to get on there for the team and score runs.”

Martinez talked before the series finale about what Abrams needs to do to take his game to the next level.

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

“We talked about it with him. To hit that next level in his game, he’s got to accept his walks,” Martinez said.

“He’s got to keep the ball in the zone. A walk for him is a double, maybe a triple. We talk about that all the time. So for him just to get on base, he makes things happen for us. He’s that catalyst for us up at the top of the lineup, we’ve got guys behind him now that can drive him in, so we need him to get on base.”

How did he get Abrams to buy in on the patient approach at the plate?

“Can I say, ‘Bribe?’” he said with a laugh. “No, it’s just conversation and what kind of player he can be. I always talk to him about what kind of player he can be, and when he starts establishing that he’ll take pitches and get on, he’ll start to get a lot of balls in the zone too, which will be good for him.”

Asked if there were any players he points to when he’s trying to show Abrams the way to keep improving, Martinez said he didn’t mention anyone in particular to his shortstop, but…

“But it was the same conversation that I had with Trea Turner when he was here,” Martinez said. “I didn’t mention that to [Abrams]. I told [Turner], I said, ‘Hey, accept your walks. You’re going to get balls in the strike zone, you’re going to start driving balls,’ and Trea did that, and you can see the kind of player he’s become, so for him he’s got to go through the same phase. He’s got to understand who he is and what he can do and when he starts doing that he’ll be that complete ballplayer offensively. His defense has been unbelievable too, so I’m really proud of everything he’s accomplished this winter.”

Abrams followed up on his big game on Saturday with a 1 for 4 showing on Sunday, and he hit his first home run of the season 2-2 curveball up and in from Reds’ starter Nick Martinez 429 feet to right-center in Great American Ball Park.

“When he gets the ball in the zone, he typically puts a good swing on it. He worked a good at-bat right there, and got a ball in the zone and hammered it, so it was good to see.”

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Title: Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats blow late lead, drop 2 of 3 in Cincy; Home opener today in D.C.
Author: Patrick Reddington

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