It is hard to quibble with any part of how the Nationals prevent runs. They have allowed 3.41 runs per game, lowest in the majors by a fairly wide margin. They allowed 1.197 walks and hits per inning, also easily best in the majors. A dominant starting rotation, an effective bullpen, high strikeout totals and an athletic defense have kept runners off the bases.
But when runners do reach base, there is one area the Nationals can improve. Nationals catchers have caught 12 of 69 base stealers this season. That 17-percent success rate ranks second-to-last in the National League, ahead of only the Pirates, who have thrown out 10 percent of base stealers.
Starting catcher Jesus Flores has thrown out 5 of 36 runners and backup Jhonatan Solano has gunned down 3 out of 8. Before he went down with a season-ending ACL tear, Wilson Ramos threw out 4 of 23. The Nationals, though, feel their catchers are not the culprits. “It’s on the pitcher,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Nationals’ pitchers, bench coach Randy Knorr said, have been more focused on getting the batter out than holding runners. The Nationals have been content to sacrifice runners advancing a base for the full ability of their pitchers, trusting them to simply retire the batter and strand the base runner, anyway.
“But you don’t want them running all day,” Knorr said. “We’re going to have to hold the ball a little more, step off, throw over.
“They’ve got such good stuff, you don’t want to limit them. It’s risk-reward. It’s something that I think has been exposed with us. We’re going to have to come up with something.”
Knorr said most Nationals relievers have a time of 1.4 or 1.5 seconds from their wind-up to the plate, “which is long.” The Nationals’ bullpen has allowed six steals in 37 attempts, compared to six steals in 32 attempts by the starters.
Friday night, Stammen gave an example off what Knorr means about not limiting a pitcher’s stuff. Stammen allowed three steals in two runners, but still did not give up any runs. “The guys who do steal tend not to score,” Knorr said.
The Nationals’ struggles in holding base stealers is a reversal from last season, when the Nationals ranked third in the majors by throwing out 34 percent of base stealers. Even if the Nationals have limited the damage, it does not look any better for Flores’ numbers.
When he first came back last year, Flores was still regaining arm strength in his surgically repaired shoulder. This year, Flores’ throws have been strong, just not in time.
“He’s trying to be so quick to make up the difference with the times that sometimes he rushes and it doesn’t come out as well,” Knorr said. “I think he’s doing a fine job.”
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