Dave Martinez wanted to make one thing clear: The immediate aftermath of Atlanta Braves pinch hitter Charlie Culberson getting hit in the face in the seventh inning Saturday afternoon “wasn’t the way it was portrayed to be” by home plate umpire Tim Timmons.
“The last thing I wanted to do was be a jackass,” the Washington Nationals manager said Sunday, visibly frustrated.
The dispute from the 10-1 loss is primarily about who asked for a review and in what fashion after a 91-mph, two-seam fastball from Nationals reliever Fernando Rodney ran up and in and hit Culberson close to the right eye socket as the hitter squared to bunt.
Timmons and first base umpire Bill Welke ultimately ruled Culberson offered at the pitch and that the Braves would have another pinch hitter at the plate with an 0-1 count instead of a pinch runner at first base. (Culberson later left the field on a medical cart with a bloody towel on the right side of his face, and the Braves announced Sunday morning that Culberson suffered “multiple facial fractures” and would travel to Atlanta to meet with team doctors to determine the next steps.)
“We’re always sympathetic to a guy hit in the eye,” Timmons said of the call. “But the rules are the rules.”
But how the review got initiated is unclear. Timmons said that while trainers attended to Culberson lying on the ground, he heard Martinez calling over to him, so he approached Martinez, who then asked him to check whether Culberson offered. Martinez said it didn’t go down like that but that he didn’t want to discuss the situation at length. The only other way this situation could have started was if Timmons asked Martinez if he’d like to check whether Culberson offered.
No matter how the review came about, Martinez asked for it and still defended the decision Sunday. He cited the 1-1 tie — important for the Nationals as they sink into the muddy waters of the National League wild-card race — and his responsibilities as the manager.
“[The Braves] understood. It's part of the game,” Martinez said. “We're in a 1-1 game. I would think that everybody would understand [the situation]. It's unfortunate. It stunk.”
He compared the situation to one the Nationals encountered in early April, when shortstop Trea Turner broke his right index finger in two places on a bunt attempt against the Philadelphia Phillies. Umpires ruled then that Turner offered at the pitch.
Martinez called Braves Manager Brian Snitker on Sunday morning to apologize for the situation on behalf of himself, Rodney and the Nationals organization. Martinez said Rodney “really wanted to make sure that Charlie got the message that he was really sorry and that he hopes he’s okay.” Rodney, still visibly upset as he spoke in front of his locker Sunday, said had not personally reached out to Culberson yet but might later in the day.
“I want to say sorry,” Rodney said. “I don’t want that to happen to nobody. Sometimes ... a lot of things happen in this game.”
Timmons’s ruling had infuriated Snitker the night before, and he’d been ejected for arguing his team should have been awarded a hit-by-pitch. Snitker said Sunday that Culberson looked better than anticipated and “sounded good for what he’d been through.” The Braves manager disagreed with the umpires’ ruling — he saw no offer from Culberson — but understood why Martinez asked for a review.
“I’m sure they don’t like doing it,” Snitker said. “I guess over the course of a game, that’s one of the things you do ask about. Hard as it might be, you’re still within your right to do that.”
After the pitch hit Culberson, Rodney became the focal point of a bullpen implosion that led to a 10-1 Nationals loss. Rodney said Sunday that he emotionally did not want to continue pitching but professionally understood he had a job to do. The reliever had encountered a similar situation in August 2008, when a fastball ran up and in and hit Tampa Bay catcher Shawn Riggans in the chest. Riggans later told reporters he couldn’t breathe, it was hard to move his arms and “I felt like I was about to die.” Rodney stayed in then, too. Martinez defended his decision to stick with Rodney.
The manager never went to the mound, never discussed the situation with his pitcher, but he said he “kind of made little gestures to him back and forth” which signaled to him Rodney wanted to stay in. The manager knows Rodney well from previously coaching him in Tampa Bay, and he said the pitcher understood the situation was tough, as it would be for anybody, but he needed to keep pitching when the game resumed.
“I feel sorry that that happened,” Rodney said. He added he never wants to hit anyone but sometimes it’s unavoidable. “That’s baseball. You have to continue and keep working, and you know that happened, but try to recover your mind and keep going and doing your thing.”
Saturday night was not the first time the Nationals had tension with Timmons this series. The crew chief ejected Nationals first base coach Tim Bogar on Friday night in the eighth inning for arguing about a check-swing call on Howie Kendrick.
The situation consumed Sunday, but baseball continued, as it does. Culberson flew back to Atlanta to meet with trainers. Timmons moved to umpire third base. Rodney told his manager he was available to pitch.