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James Paxton roughed up in Washington, Nationals clobber Yankees, 9-2

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I’ve seen enough of Victor Robles, thank you very much,

MLB: New York Yankees at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When the Nationals announced that they had scratched Stephen Strasburg, I knew it was a trap. It was too good to be true. Of course it was, because Erick Fedde and the Nationals’ bullpen carved up the Yankees. Combine a clunker of a start by James Paxton and you have a 9-2 loss. Not fun!

A Problem with Paxton’s Velocity

Last week, after an intrasquad game, James Paxton told reporters that his mechanics felt off. In particular, he believed that he couldn’t reach his preferred velocity. It turns out that he wasn’t kidding, as Paxton entered Saturday night’s game without his best fastball.

Big Maple lasted only one inning, plus a handful of batters, against the Nationals. He escaped the first inning unscathed, but the second frame turned into a nightmare. After three straight singles, he found the bases loaded. Then Victor Robles came to plate, laced a double into left field, and put the Nationals ahead 2-0 with nobody out.

That ended Paxton’s night, almost as soon as it started, and you know what? That was the right decision. He had nothing working. His fourseamer averaged 91.8 mph, and topped out at 93.8 mph. For comparison, last season the southpaw averaged 95.4 mph on his fastball.

Paxton left a bunch of lifeless fastballs in the middle of the zone, and his curveball went so far off the plate that it didn’t fool anyone.

A clunker.

They happen to every pitcher. I hope that’s the case with Paxton, but the diminished velocity leaves me concerned. Maybe he still needs to build up after recovering from back surgery at the start of spring training. Maybe he needs to get his mechanics locked down—it did look like he was flinging the ball from more of a side-arm angle. Whatever it is, the Yankees should hope he figures it out ASAP.

King’s Things

Mike King took over from Paxton in the second inning, and he had an unenviable task: navigating a bases-loaded, no-out situation. No biggie, kid, just bail out the number two starter in the second game of the season, in the second big-league game of your career, against the reining world champions. Got it? Cool.

He got it, though, forcing Trea Turner into a double play and inducing Adam Eaton to fly out into center field. The rookie escaped the inning allowing only one inherited runner to score, and that seemed like best-case scenario stuff.

King cruised for the next inning, but then ran into some trouble in the bottom of the fourth. Kurt Suzuki lofted a weak fly ball into left field (69.9 mph exit velocity), but it clanged off Brett Gardner’s glove for a base hit. Then Robles struck again, homering exactly off the left-field foul pole to give the Nats a 5-2 lead.

The 25-year-old faced three more batters, and he didn’t exactly pitch poorly to them. He allowed Eaton to reach on an infield single, struck Starlin Castro out, then allowed Eaton to advance to second on a bad pickoff attempt. Of course, that meant Howie Kendrick would hit a ground-rule double in his next at-bat, driving King from the game.

All told, King allowed four runs over 3.1 innings, but with only two strikeouts. He got out of a tough situation, and caught a few breaks, but it’s hard to escape major damage in today’s game without the strikeout. A fine night in the unenthusiastic sense of the word, one that showed his potential, but also an area to improve upon.

Two Radically Different Ways to Score

DJ LeMahieu put the Yankees on the board with an RBI single in the third inning. Gio Urshela started the inning by reaching on an error, then he advanced to second on another one. A fly out by Brett Gardner moved him to third base, then LeMahieu brought him home. Manufactured runs! Did you hear that? That’s the sound of John Flaherty aggressively fist-pumping in excitement.

If small ball isn’t your thing, then I have something to entertain you as well. Giancarlo Stanton, the destroyer of baseball worlds, has returned. A solo home run in the fourth inning made it 3-2, and it wasn’t an ordinary solo home run, either.

483 feet! That should count for at least two runs, right?

With an exit velocity of 121.3 mph, that moonshot was the second hardest hit homer of the Statcast era, behind only...another Stanton home run from 2018. Goodness. I am so, so here for an MVP-season from Stanton. In fact, I would love nothing more.

Leftovers

The Yankees have arguably the most formidable relief corps in baseball. In addition to their own closer, they have three other relievers who could close on basically any other team in the league. The shallow end of the bullpen, though, got exposed by the Nationals. Jonathan Holder, in particular, struggled:

Low 90s and down the middle. No wonder Asdrubal Cabrera teed that off. The box score makes it look like Holder pitched well, but yeesh, I’m not sure I’d like to see him in anything other than a mop-up situation.

Ben Heller also allowed a homer in the seventh inning—to Cabrera, nonetheless—for good measure. That made it an 8-2 game and basically put it to rest.

Speaking of the bullpen, Luis Avilan made his Yankees debut on Saturday night. Michael Taylor, the second batter he faced, greeted him with a solo home run. In a 60-game season, it won’t be as easy to forget players on the Sporcle quiz, but Avilan is an early favorite for, “Wait, he played on the Yankees this year?”

Lastly, this wasn’t the crispest game played, was it? The Nationals committed five errors (five!), while the Yankees had two of their own. Oof. I guess that will happen after a four-month layoff.

The rubber game of the series takes place tomorrow afternoon. Patrick Corbin, who grew up a Yankees fan, will go up against the Yankees’ bullpen. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 PM.

Box Score