The Washington Nationals beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-2, on Wednesday — but all of their runs and hits came in the first inning. For the next five innings, a 23-year old right-hander with a high walk rate making his major league debut held the Nationals’ offense hitless. The Rays’ bullpen pitched a hitless seventh and eighth inning as well.
In fact, the Nationals had only one baserunner — a Bryce Harper walk in the third inning over the final seven innings of the game.
“We’re still a little overanxious,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Trying to get an opposing pitcher come into the strike zone, look for a little better pitch to drive. I like them being aggressive, but I like them being a little more selective aggressive.”
Against rookie starter Chris Archer, the Nationals took advantage of his early-game jitters and the first three runners scored. Because of an error, only one of the three runs was earned. Once Archer was comfortable — he worked in reverse with his offspeed pitches first, then fastballs — he induced flyouts, struck out batters and retired the Nationals in order.
In 14 starts for the Rays’ Class AAA Durham, Archer had a 4.81 ERA and walked 45 batters in 76 2/3 innings, a high rate. Yet, the Nationals managed only one walk against him on Wednesday — one indicator of an impatient team at the plate not working pitchers deeper into the at-bats.
Entering Wednesday’s game, the Nationals, with slumping hitters Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, averaged 3.85 runs per game — good for 25th out of 30 major league teams — below the 4.3 runs per game league average. And, they’re 22nd with an average of 3.77 pitches per plate appearance — below the league average of 3.82.
With a handful of exceptions, generally the teams that score at least the major league-average 4.3 runs a game also rank among the highest in average pitches seen per plate appearance, such as the Red Sox (second-best 5.03 runs per game and 3.95 pitches per plate appearance) and the Mets (11th-best 4.43 runs per game and third-best 3.95 pitches per plate appearance).
Exclude Archer’s jittery first inning and examine the third inning as an example: after Harper’s leadoff walk, Zimmerman grounded into his 11th double play of the season on the second pitch — tied for most in the National League. Cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche, a patient hitter, struck out on six pitches. An inning later, Archer retired Morse, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa on 11 pitches. Archer sat down the all three hitters in the sixth inning with four pitches.
“When you start a game like that you don’t expect not to get anymore runs or hits,” said leadoff hitter Steve Lombardozzi, who has the team’s third-best on-base percentage of Nationals regular players behind Adam LaRoche and Harper. “But I thought [Archer] did a good job tonight. He kept guys off balance. A lot of offspeed stuff. It’s just one of those nights. Sometimes you get them early. Sometimes you get them late.”
FROM THE POST
Davey Johnson and Joe Maddon continued firing verbal bombs at one another the day after Joel Peralta was ejected for having pine tar on his glove.
Stephen Strasburg led the Nationals as they snapped a four-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory over the Rays.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 6, Pawtucket 5: Corey Brown went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. Erik Komatsu went 2 for 4. Koyie Hill went 2 for 5 with a homer.
Harrisburg 7, Portland 3: Jeff Kobernus went 3 for 5 with a double. Jimmy Van Ostrand went 3 for 5. Zech Zincola allowed no runs in 1 2/3 relief innings on one hit and no walks, striking out two.
Potomac is on all-star break. Nathan Karns was named the Carolina League pitcher of the week. On the year Karns, a 24-year-old right-hander, has a 2.51 and 80 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings between Hagerstown and Potomac.
Hagerstown is on all-star break.
Batavia 9, Auburn 3: Tony Renda went 1 for 2 with two walks. Brandon Miller went 1 for 3 with a walk. Craig Manuel went 2 for 3. Bryan Harper, Bryce’s brother, allowed three runs in 2 1/3 relief innings on five hits and no walks, striking out two.