Botched strategy and a managerial rookie error leads to a tough loss

Sometimes you cannot believe the new ways this team finds to lose a game. Today it was some botched strategy, poor execution, and a rookie managerial mistake on a 10th inning pitching change. Worst than that, every bullpen arm was used today. Even worse than that, the team dropped to a season-low 5-games below .500. When a manager makes a mistake, you hope the players execute to cover up for the error(s). That did not happen as there was no comeback to grab the win. The Nationals are now 1-and-8 in 1-run games this season. Is that possible? It sure is.

It was debated during the 5th inning whether or not you pull pitcher Jeremy Hellickson with 1 out for a pinch-hitter because you have a runner on 3rd base while you also know that Hellickson has not pitched past 5 1/3 innings so far this season, and add to that, the first batter he would face in the top of the 6th inning would be David Peralta who had one home run against him already plus another flyball that was a few feet from another home run. The Nats were winning 2-to-1 at the time in the 5th inning. Of course, Hellickson grounded out and did not score the run and Trea Turner also grounded out and the runner was stranded at 3rd base. There was never a guarantee that a pinch-hitter would have scored the run from 3rd base — but sending up a career .157 batter who had 5 previous at-bats this season was not forecasted with a high probability of success.

In the top of the 6th inning, Dave Martinez had double-barrels going in the bullpen with Solis and Gott telling you the confidence level Martinez had in his pitcher. Hellickson faced his first batter — David Peralta — who promptly hit a long home run to tie the game for his second dinger of the game. Hellickson retired the next batter and then was pulled for Trevor Gott. All of that to give up the tying run and then get pulled one out later seems like the strategy backfired. Again, you can debate this over and over whether Hellickson should have been pulled for the pinch-hitter in the 5th inning, and for what it’s worth, Hellickson was none to happy that he was pulled at that point in the game. For a team that really needed to win, you had an add-on run sitting on 3rd base it that 5th inning who could score with a productive out or a hit which is a luxury you have with a runner on 3rd base and less than 2 outs. It was not meant to be.

In the bottom of the 6th inning in a 2-to-2 game, Howie Kendrick hit a home run to take back the lead 3-to-2. Brandon Kintzler held the 7th and then in the bottom of the inning Pedro Severino and Wilmer Difo both singled to put runners on 2nd base and 1st base. Dave Martinez had a choice to have Trea Turner bunt to push up the runners (or the bonus of a bunt hit) which he did not do and Turner swung away and scorched a grounder directly to the 2nd baseman for a doubleplay. The only way Trea Turner is doubled-up is just what happened which was a hard grounder right at a middle infielder.

In the top of the 8th inning, Ryan Madson gave up 3 singles to blow the hold (blown save technically) and the game was tied 3-to-3. The game would go into the 10th inning when Martinez called for Sammy Solis who had warmed up 4 innings earlier in the 6th inning and Solis was not sharp. He was pulled with 2-on-base and one out.

This is where things got really strange. The D’Backs right-handed “potential” pinch-hitter  Chris Owings stepped into the on-deck circle but was never officially in the game. Dave Martinez motioned for Austin Adams to face him, but Diamondbacks manager Torey Luvullo pulled Owings back and stayed with his lefty Jarrod Dyson. After seeing this, Martinez protested with homeplate ump Nic Lentz to no avail.

“I completely take ownership of that. It will never happen again,” Davey Martinez said about the mistake with thinking a pinch-hitter was officially brought into the game.

Martinez would bring in the righty Austin Adams who has not had a high leverage appearance, and he was wild. He promptly walked Dyson to load the bases and then walked A.J. Pollock for a bases loaded walk and the game winner (on Sammy Solis’ record). Did anyone realize that Dyson is just a .174 batter and 0-for-4 in the game? Of course Luvullo wanted to pull him for a pinch-hitter as that was the smart move until Martinez botched it. Adams should have been happy to get Dyson to face in that situation and just needed to throw quality strikes. Instead, Adams wilted under the pressure and only threw 3 strikes to go with the 11 pitches he threw for two costly walks.

“I have to go out there and throw strikes,” Austin Adams said. “That’s what it comes down to. I didn’t do my job. I didn’t get ahead of hitters.”

Carlos Torres, the last Nats reliever, was called into the game and would retire the next two batters with bases loaded. Martinez after the game took full blame for botching the pitching change which was a rookie mistake — and yes, Davey Martinez is a rookie with a lot of MLB experience.

The Nats would still have a chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the 10th inning as Ryan Zimmerman who was the offensive star and got the scoring started today with a 2-run home run after Trea Turner was walked and stole his 11th base kept the D’Backs starter Patrick Corbin flummoxed during Zimmerman’s at-bat.

With 2 outs in the 10th inning, Zimmerman worked the count to 3-2 then laced a double down the 3rd base line allowing Luvello an easy decision to walk Bryce Harper. The Diamondbacks closer, Brad Boxberger, could not find the strike zone and got wild and walked Howie Kendrick to load the bases. Michael A. Taylor became Michael F. Taylor when he was first ball swinging and tapped a grounder to shortstop to end the game. What was he thinking and what was he watching from the on-deck circle when Kendrick was batting?

This game hurt more than most because Torey Luvullo made plenty of mistakes but Davey Martinez upped the level of ineptitude and made Luvullo look smart. By the way, Luvullo was a rookie manager last year and won the NL Manager of the Year award for 2017.

“We had our chances of winning,” Martinez said. “I have nothing to say but those guys play with heart.”

In a footnote, Davey Martinez finally changed the line-up and moved Ryan Zimmerman into the 2-hole and Howie Kendrick to the 4-hole. That move paid immediate dividends. It took until the 27th game to move Zimmerman in front of Harper. It is only the second time this season that Zimmerman has not started a game batting 4th in the lineup. This could be the line-up alignment against left-handed pitchers. We will see what DMart does against right-handed pitchers if he realigns the line-up again. Zimmerman is batting .145 against right-handed pitchers versus .321 against left-handed pitchers this season.

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