The sheer number of strikeouts the Nationals have piled up in two games make your eyes bulge: 31, most ever by one pitching staff two games into a season. If you don’t feel like doing the math, that comes out 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Last night, the Nationals’ bullpen – namely Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen – faced 10 batters in three innings and struck out seven.
The Nationals, of course, will not maintain that pace for a full season, or even for a full week. But the gobs of strikeouts, along with exposing the Mets lineup, do reflect the style and ability of their pitching staff. Five of 12 members of the opening day staff struck out at least 8.5 batters per nine innings last year, not counting Aaron Barrett, who struck out 12.3 at Class AA.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Clippard said. “I think it’s definitely who we are as a pitching staff. We’ve got a lot of power arms, a lot of guys who can strike people out. It’s been a good couple days. That’s all I can say. I don’t think it’s going to be traditionally like that every single time. A lot of guys, that’s what we do in the bullpen. That’s just what we do.”
Even more jaw-dropping than all the strikeouts may be all the strikes. In 21 of those 31 strikeouts, strike three came with either one or no balls in the count. Nationals pitchers have thrown 65.6 percent of their pitches for strikes. They have thrown a first-pitch strike to 51 of 72 batters faced – 70.8. A staggering 34.7 percent of Mets hitters the past two games have faced an 0-2 count; league average is 26.2 percent.
“That’s one thing [pitching coach Steve McCatty has] always preached to us,” Clippard said. “We’ve been real cognizant of that over the years. I think we’re a little bit more refined – a little older, a little smarter. I think those types of things sink in more and more as you have more experience in the big leagues and know how important it is not to get behind guys and not to walk guys.”
Pitching coach Steve McCatty and Matt Williams both espouse pitching to contact, the importance of quick outs and keeping pitch counts low. The Nationals have listened, but in trying to throw strikes and induce contact, they’ve instead overwhelmed the Mets.
“The way you do that is throw strikes,” Williams said. “I think the strikeouts are a function of their stuff. The guys that have pitched for us have really good stuff. Getting ahead certainly helps that. I think the strikeout total is a little bit of an aberration. You certainly wouldn’t expect that over a whole season. But nonetheless, the fact that they’ve been getting ahead and throwing strikes is key for us.”