Ian Krol on the second-half struggles of his rookie season


Ian Krol. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Ian Krol is so desperate to snap out of his current funk on the mound he has resorted to shaving his facial hair. After allowing yet another run in another appearance on Saturday night, Krol looked like a baby-faced 22-year-old rookie in the clubhouse the following morning.

“Fresh start,” he said. “Hey, these past two months have just been pretty brutal, mentally and physically.”

Krol began his major league career with a bang, posting a 1.80 ERA over his first 14 appearances. The left-handed reliever then hit a wall and has struggled since the all-star break. Since July 20, he has a 6.75 ERA in 12 innings over 17 games and was demoted to Class AAA Syracuse for two weeks.

When he returned from the minors, Krol believed he had made progress on the issues that had plagued him. But he has allowed a run in three of his past four appearances, including Saturday’s outing in which he tossed only seven pitches, recorded no outs, allowed a single, double and a run, and fired a wild pitch.

“There’s no real way to explain it,” he said. “I’ve been pretty unlucky lately, but just trying to stay positive. I keep doing all the right things, doing all the small things to get me through the days. There’s nothing I can really say to explain how the last two months have gone. I go out there, I give it my all, do my best, listen to my catcher, throw what he wants me to throw, throw my pitches with conviction, and I haven’t been so fortunate lately. And everybody will tell you in this locker room you’ll go through times like that.”

After Saturday’s game, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson pointed out that Krol relied solely on catcher Wilson Ramos’s pitch selection and went to his change-up instead of his fastball to Jimmy Rollins in the seventh inning and yielded a double. Krol said he shook off his catcher early in the season and had success, but then struggled doing so. Because of his inexperience, he is back to relying on his catcher. He believes the results are his fault for not executing his pitches.

The Nationals will be in need of left-handed relievers next season and Krol could be in the mix to earn a spot in the bullpen, but likely an option in Syracuse to bolster depth. Krol doesn’t want to think about the implications of his second-half struggles, and whether they may hurt his chances to make the big league team out of spring training next season.

“I’m taking it day by day,” he said. “I’m not trying to look into the future right now. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with myself and what’s going on with baseball. Trying to dig deep and find some way to get out of the rut that I’m in right now. The offseason is what that’s for. When I go home, go back to the offseason, I’m going to work my butt off and see where it gets me next year.”

Part of the explanation may be the time of the year. Krol has never pitched in competitive games in September; he has thrown in the instructional league before but never in games that mattered until now. He refuses to use it as an excuse, but it is a reality. Even veteran pitchers can feel tired at this point of the season.

“It’s definitely been wearing on my arm, going out there back-to-back and then having seven days off and then going out there again,” he said. “Yeah, it’s tough. But I feel like I’ve adapted to it pretty well.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.

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James Wagner · September 15, 2013