A lesson on walking a batter with a flashback to 2016 with Harper

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalKNats

Let me set the stage for you. The Nationals were winning 2-0 in the third inning in Philadelphia after Joey Meneses blasted a 2-run homer in the top of the inning on Saturday night. Erick Fedde wasn’t pitching well but had been bailed out by doubleplay balls so far. In the third inning, it started with a first pitch single up the middle because no shift was deployed and the next batter walked, and then the Nats turned a slick DP on the Phillies to put a man on third with two outs. In walked Bryce Harper to the batter’s box.

Immediately I commented  on TalkNats.com “IBB him” and others agreed. But for some reason, Fedde was pitching to Harper. Why? You put him on first and save the bullets since Fedde’s pitch count was high at 54 pitches to that point in just 2 2/3 innings. Maybe manager Dave Martinez could have helped Fedde out, and just put up 4-fingers and then go after the rookie on-deck with two outs. Nope, Fedde got into a 3-1 count to Harper and threw a changeup that half the ball was on the edge of the outside of the zone in the same spot that Fedde was trying to pepper to get Harper to chase. But why test fate? Harper smashed a 2-run homer to tie the game with his oppo dinger.

Harper had dominated Fedde, his buddy from Las Vegas High School and former teammate. But for the past four-years — they have not been teammates. Before Harper’s home run, his ownership of Fedde was 9-18 with 5 homers and 5 walks. But Davey refused to help his pitcher out at any point, and squarely put the blame on Fedde after the game for not executing.

“We mentioned it before. It’s happened to us before: When you pitch around [Harper], you don’t throw changeups,” Martinez said. “You just throw your fastball away, up and away. Just throw a non-competitive pitch. He threw a changeup, and Harp – as good a hitter as he is – got good wood on it.”

“I told myself: These guys have got to understand the game. They’ve got to be smart. I’m not going to walk him six times, holding my fingers up. We talked about it when we got in here. It’s just one of those mistakes.”

You will read below that there is some déjà vu to this. But maybe you remember the six walks in a game with Harper when he was a player for the Washington Nationals.

This is also the anatomy of how you lose. After that Harper homer, the team just seemed to lose focus and made some lazy errors by Cesar Hernandez and Ildemaro Vargas on routine throws. But that isn’t what knocked Fedde out of the game. Going into the fourth inning, it was the same pattern of lead-off single up the middle, walk, and this time the Nats would have been out of the fourth inning in a 2-2 game but Hernandez made a poor relay throw on what was originally ruled a doubleplay — but on replay was overturned. After that Fedde would give up a long double and would exit the game with two outs in a 4-2 deficit.

Fedde’s final line was 3 2/3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 HR. If he just had that fifth walk for Harper, that HR total would have been zero. You have to believe that stuck with Fedde and his teammates into that fourth inning and beyond. It is hard to shake obvious mistakes. The Nats could not.

“That was in a spot where probably throwing [Harper] a pitch in the zone wasn’t in my best interest,” Fedde said. “That probably would’ve been the biggest thing I would change.”

So why did Fedde do it? But even hearing what Davey said in the postgame about not wanting to IBB in that situation to Harper, I still fail to realize why not. Martinez said, “I’m not going to walk him six times, holding my fingers up.” But why not, if that is what it takes in a given situation. Can I call bull#### on Davey’s comment that chances are Harper wouldn’t step up to the plate more than five times in a 9-inning game.

Once upon a time, Martinez’s former boss, Joe Maddon, basically did that to Harper with six walks in one game! It was in a series in 2016 with the Cubs and Nats when Martinez was the bench coach, and it happened in a 13-inning game.

Maddon even loaded the bases once to walk Harper. Some fans came to watch the reigning MVP swing the bat — not to be walked six times. Interesting, walked six times and three were managerial called intentional walks. But the Cubs won. Maddon said he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

“There’s really nothing to react to,” Maddon said after that game in 2016. “If you’re a Cubs fan you love it [because we won]. If you’re not, you don’t, necessarily.”

“It was a strategy in the game based on how the [Nationals] built their [lineup]. … The best I way I can put it is, I didn’t do anything to them.”

Walking the former-Nat six times in a game got so much press, that the Chicago media interviewed their general manager Jed Hoyer about it.

“No one goes to a football game and complains that Calvin Johnson got double-teamed,” Hoyer said, referring to a Detroit Lions receiver. “It’s part of the game. You try to take away the strength of another team’s best player.”

The Cubs didn’t enter the series intending on walking Harper 13 times in total, but they had a strategy that they weren’t going to let him beat them and felt the Nats’ lineup construction with a slumping Ryan Zimmerman batting after Harper gave them an opening to walk Harper.

“He kept on coming up with a base open and two outs,” Hoyer continued. “He’s a great player. The guy can end the game quickly, so we were probably more careful than usual. Ultimately, it’s a sign of respect for Bryce that that was the chosen avenue.”

Hmm, two outs and a base open. Sound familiar? Again, Martinez was there in the Cubs dugout. If I remember that, doesn’t Martinez?

Bad decisions have a way of infuriating the baseball gods. What if Harper was IBB’d? Would the game have turned out differently in the W/L column? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe we move on to the top of the fifth inning with the Nats winning 2-0. But most of us would have liked to have seen it play out smarter than the 8-5 loss. By the way, the fifth inning opened with a Hernandez throwing error that led to two unearned runs. Still, the Nats had their chances to win it as the game ended on a bases loaded strikeout to Nelson Cruz because of course the Nats never gave up.

Errors were made. Mistakes were made. Perfection is hard to come by, however, good baseball leads to wins. A crucial mistake can have a domino effect. That’s the anatomy of a losing team.

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