DENVER — There are a number of questions the Washington Nationals still hope to answer over the final five weeks of this season, with a host of players auditioning for long-term roles within the organization.
Every game will be closely scrutinized by general manager Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta, even if the final results of these games mean little overall.
Perhaps, then, there is something the Nationals can learn from last night’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies: how Tim Redding responds to a little adversity.
The 29-year-old right-hander hasn’t dealt with any of that since joining the rotation nearly two months ago. He’ll need to address it now, though, after getting beaten around by the Rockies for five runs in four-plus innings.
“That’s what this is about,” he said after throwing more balls (45) than strikes (44). “Guys have to go out there, battle through adversity, come back after a bad start and the next time out try to get back to where you were before.”
Redding’s worst outing to date with Washington was the story line to emerge from this game at Coors Field. But that is not to diminish the significance of last night’s other noteworthy development: the Nationals’ inability to get their offense going against rookie right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jimenez (3-2) tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, shaking off a rough start that saw Washington score two batters into the game before going silent. The lanky 23-year-old dazzled with an upper-90s fastball and an assortment of off-speed pitches that left the opposition helpless.
“We were overpowered by their pitching today,” Acta said. “Jimenez deserves all the credit. … That’s great stuff right there. They’ve got a chance to have a very good pitcher at this level.”
The Nationals hope Redding continues to pitch well for them over the long haul, something the club couldn’t have foreseen only a month or two ago.
Redding’s emergence has proved to be one of the biggest stories of the summer for Washington. After a dismal spring in which he posted an 11.42 ERA and put nearly three men on base an inning, he was banished to Class AAA Columbus, where he figured to remain all season. Redding had shown nothing — neither physical talent nor the ability to get out of a jam — to make the organization believe he had a turnaround in him.
“We didn’t see stuff or results,” Bowden said before last night’s game. “We almost released him out of spring training, and we almost released out of Triple-A in April and May. Now he’s sitting here, and almost every start has been impressive.”
Almost. Seven of Redding’s first nine outings were quality starts. His ERA entering last night’s game was a dominant 2.53.
But the Nationals had to wonder how long he could keep this up. Eventually, he was going to have a rough night, and it finally happened in the thin Rocky Mountain air.
“He’ll be fine,” Acta said. “He’s just human. You can’t expect him to come out every single outing and give us six solid innings.”
Warming up in the bullpen, Redding (3-4) sensed he wasn’t going to be sharp. And it didn’t take long for the 27,179 in attendance to realize it. He left a full-count fastball up to Troy Tulowitzki in the first, and the rookie shortstop tagged it to right-center for a solo home run.
Things only got worse from there. Redding served up another homer in the fourth, this time a two-run blast by Brad Hawpe (though on a good pitch, down and away). And then he lost all semblance of command, issuing three walks along with a pair of singles without retiring a batter in the fifth.
The last of those free passes came with the bases loaded, and that was all Acta could handle. He strolled to the mound, motioned to the bullpen and sent Redding home early for the first time in a long time.
“It was just a poor effort, period, all around for me,” the right-hander said. “I couldn’t get ahead of hitters. I couldn’t make pitches when I needed to. Unfortunately, you fall behind hitters in this stadium, and they get a little momentum going.”
The Nationals already trailed 5-1, and the bases remained loaded with nobody out. Thanks to a brilliant relief showing by Chris Schroder, though, Washington remained in the ballgame.
The young right-hander was simply dynamic, escaping the bases-loaded jam without surrendering another run, then adding two more perfect innings of relief to cap his evening. Schroder’s final line: nine batters faced, nine batters retired, five by strikeout.
“Great control of the fastball, it was coming around real easy,” the rookie reliever said. “And I was locating well. It seemed to jump on them and have a lot of life on it.”