And he learned, fast, how hard it is to locate pitches in a major league game.
“You think it’s easy to throw strikes?” Parra remembered Martinez asking him in the dugout.
“I didn’t say to you that it’s easy to throw strikes,” Parra answered. “I said I threw hard.”
Parra was right about that. The 33-year-old pumped low-90s fastballs, touching 92 with his fastest pitch, against five Arizona batters. The problem was that he couldn’t locate the strike zone. The Nationals eventually lost the game, 18-7, but the mood was brightened by what happened in the eighth. Parra walked four, gave up a single and was finished once Martinez visited him on the mound, 25 pitches into a dream gone wrong. He was relieved by Brian Dozier, Washington’s second baseman, who somehow navigated his way out of the inning.
It was the first time in Nationals history that two position players pitched in the same game. It was the first time in franchise history since 1990, when the Montreal Expos needed two position players to polish off a blowout loss.
The Expos first called on a young outfielder in that game, and he allowed two runs on two hits and two walks. His name was Dave Martinez.
“It was fun,” Martinez said of this odd sliver of Saturday’s loss, and that was certainly one way to describe it.
Martinez first mentioned in Baltimore how much Parra had been asking to pitch. When Parra signed with the Diamondbacks in 2002, by now-Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, there was some talk of making him a pitcher. He is a lefty. He has a great arm from the outfield. Those two attributes, when tied together, are what every baseball team looks for. But Parra was a skilled outfielder and strong at the plate. He stayed a position player — a smart move in hindsight — yet always wanted to pitch in the show.
It took more than 10 seasons. Then he got his chance to show off impressive velocity and a makeshift breaking pitch. Parra didn’t know whether to call it a slider or a curveball. It registered in the low-80s and only broke a little bit.
“I tried, I tried,” Parra said with a big smile on his face. "I’m happy I got back to the mound. It didn’t go like I wanted, but I’m still happy. First time in the big leagues. So this is big for me.”
Dozier was Martinez’s backup plan from the start, if Parra couldn’t finish the inning. Before everyone jogged out to the field, Martinez made eye contact with Dozier and asked, “Can you throw?” Dozier nodded and, without hesitating, answered with an unwavering “Absolutely.” His last appearance came in college at Southern Mississippi, and before that high school, and before that Little League. But plugging Dozier in on the mound, taking Parra out, presented another problem: where to put the left-handed Parra in the infield.
Adrián Sanchez, the Nationals’ utility man, had already pinch-hit in the seventh. Howie Kendrick was only available to pinch-hit, if needed in a big spot, due to leg cramps. Martinez put Parra at third and moved Anthony Rendon to second, figuring the left-handed Jarred Dyson would pull the ball in Rendon’s direction. He did, hitting a two-run double off Dozier’s 69-mph “curveball,” and then Martinez moved Parra to second base. In one inning, in the span of three batters, Parra was a pitcher, third baseman and second baseman for the first time in his career. Dozier, meanwhile, got Ketel Marte to pop out.
And right after he did, one of Dozier’s best friends walked to the plate. He and Eduardo Escobar grew close while coming through the Minnesota Twins’ system a decade ago. Escobar taught Dozier Spanish. They traveled together to Venezuela, Escobar’s home country, in the offseason. Now they were squaring off in the unlikeliest of ways, and Escobar laughed as he stepped into the batter’s box.
“What do you got?” Dozier recalled Escobar asking.
“You better get your foot down,” Dozier shot back, indicating that high heat, and not a low-70s fastball, was coming. Dozier’s plan was to get a first-pitch strike before throwing “knuckleballs and stuff” for the rest of the at-bat. But he never got there.
His first pitch was way high. His next one, smack in the middle of the plate, wound up in the second deck in left for Escobar’s second homer of the game. Dozier, in truth, didn’t want to pitch too well. That could only lead to more appearances down the road. He instead decided to take it easy, give a good friend something to hit, give them something to talk about once they left the park. Dozier was heading to Escobar’s house for a late dinner. And he didn’t expect to hear the end of the 415-foot blast.
“I didn’t want to show off too much, because I didn’t want to end my career hitting and then start pitching,” Dozier said, his words dripping with sarcasm. “So 74-75 . . . if I start throwing 95-96, I wouldn’t be a hitter anymore. So I was trying to keep my position player status going.”
He did that and then some. He and Parra both.