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I’ve slept on it, but this morning I have the same feeling.
Last night’s Nationals game kind of annoyed me.
It’s not that they lost to the Braves – the team was going to eventually lose some time – but it was the cavalier way they sort of gave it away. There were moves that could have been made that might have turned what ended up being a lost cause into something salvageable. But new manager Dave Martinez just sort of went with the flow. Which is the part that annoys me.
You can’t really blame starting pitcher A.J. Cole. He is what he is – a serviceable, at best average pitcher who at times can give you a couple of really good innings. But the Nationals keep believing if they keep sending him out as a starter, maybe one more chance is going to make a difference. As the noted philosopher Harry Callahan once stated, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”
His manager needs to know those limitations too. When someone told Oilers Coach Bum Phillips that his prized running back Earl Campbell couldn’t even finish running a mile, Phillips replied “when it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.” Last night it was first and a mile, and Martinez still kept giving Cole the ball.
It’s only one game, and I have a dear friend named Tim who for 40 years has reminded me “they play 162” whenever I complain about a baseball team. He also says that when you say “good morning” or “you want a hot dog?” but you get the idea. Each game is just a small part of an entire season.
But I’ve also learned in baseball you respect a streak. The team had won 4 straight to start the season, something they’d never done in team history since the franchise moved to Washington. They’d never trailed this season in any inning this season. In the top of the first, they put up 3 runs and kept that streak going. You could see it in the dugout, that feeling of confidence and “we can take on anything” because up until the bottom of the first, they’d faced no adversity.
Cole quickly gave up 4 runs to snap the first streak, but did hit a home run in the top of the second. That was nice, but as an old saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. Cole is paid to get people out, not hit home runs. If he does, that’s gravy. If he doesn’t get people out, that’s a problem.
In the bottom of the second, he did just that. In the process of getting people on base so that a home run could make it 8-4, Martinez didn’t stir. Conversely, after Bryce Harper hit a home run in the top of the third to make it 8-5 and the Nats started to fill the bases, the Braves immediately made a pitching change. Shane Carle came in, stopped the rally, pitched 3 and a third innings of good baseball, and decided the game.
The Nats left Cole in until it was 10-5. Maybe there was so much confidence in the Nats’ bats that the thought was they would score a lot more runs and win 13-12 like they did a few years ago (thanks to Dan Uggla) in Atlanta. But you could see the air sort of come out of the Nats, as they seemed to realize this one wasn’t going to be a W, so let’s just get this over with and head home to D.C.
There are a lot of reasons leaving Cole in could make sense. Martinez maybe didn’t want to use any of his good relievers and end up using up his bullpen before facing a key series with the Mets. Maybe he thought he’d sacrifice a game in Atlanta to get Enny Romero, Shawn Kelly, Sammy Solis and Trevor Gott some work, because when the law firm of Kintzler, Madson and Doolittle get rolling, there is no work available for anyone else.
Either way, it’s only one loss. But with a new manager, I was hoping to see a little more decisiveness. You can see Martinez’s fingerprints all over the team in the first 4 games, as it seems to me this year’s ballclub pays attention to detail and does the little things – like manufacturing runs, grinding out pitch counts to wear out an opposing starter, etc. – better than teams of the past. These things don’t just happen. Someone gently emphasizes them over and over again when the game isn’t being played.
But none of that matters if you leave a pitcher in until his ERA is 24.55.