We almost got to see Washington Nationals rookie Jake Irvin take the team’s lead in ERA and get below a 3.99 ERA. With 4⅔ scoreless innings in the books, Irvin walked two men in the fifth inning and with two outs, in an instant the Nats 3-0 lead evaporated. Disappointing to say the least as the Nats offense never scored a run past the first inning and lost 5-3. Irvin’s sinker for the 3-run homer was a stinker at the middle of the zone on the inside edge. He was out of answers in that fifth inning, and out of the game. Maybe it was a tired arm. Maybe it was a lack of a plan. Maybe it was the lack of a put-away pitch. Was it a moment that Irvin can learn from? That is a question we ask often. Are these young players learning?
Uh Davey, we know the results. We saw the game. Why was he still in that game? This is all debatable. Irvin gave up five walks in just those 4⅔ innings and was spent. It was obvious. But you kept him in that game to face the heart of the Brewers order at 95 pitches and on fumes. Just seven pitches later, the 3-0 game was a 4-3 deficit and another winnable game lost, and a young pitcher fed to the lions. Irvin has thrown over 140 innings so far this season, and that is nearly 40 percent more than last season for a kid who was recovering from UCL elbow surgery last year. He did not pitch at all in 2021. What are we doing here?
They call it “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs” and too often teams ruin a good thing that they have. They think this is 1923 instead of 2023. We discuss it over and over how the game was changed by analytics and yadda, yadda, yadda. Rub some dirt on it. But this isn’t the same as a normal tired arm. This is a Tommy John survivor who is a rookie. Forget about that he is 26 years old, and ask yourself if this is the correct protocol. Maybe it is. But err on the side of caution when you know it is right. Last night, that might have been when he reached 90 pitches and Christian Yelich stepped into the batter’s box with lefty Robert Garcia warming.
Last week, George Kirby was upset about being left in a game as his pitch count grew and opened up his mouth about it. He was yelled at by fans on social media. Later, Kirby apologized. Pitchers are supposed to keep pitching, unless they are hurt. It is the job of the coach to make the right decisions. They have the analytics and data and eyes to observe.
Mind you, Irvin did not complain in his postgame interviews about being tired. Sure you wanted to get him through the fifth inning — but did you consider he was pitching well over a 20-pitch pace per inning and was going to blow this?
We just have to be better and smarter in all facets including pitching decisions. Where was pitching coach Jim Hickey on this? Hopefully Irvin will be fine when he is due to pitch next week. He will keep adding to his 2023 pitching odometer with more miles. With just two weeks of games left in 2023 for the Nats, this is a key learning moment for the pitcher, pitching coach, and manager.