Luis Atilano pitched like a man trying to save his job tonight.
With the upbringing of phenom Stephen Strasburg, several pitchers in the Nationals rotation have been targeted as possible candidates to lose their spot, and Atilano knows very well that he is one of them. The 25-year-old rookie was outstanding tonight however, tossing seven innings, allowing only one earned, and most importantly, he addressed his weaknesses.
One of the concerns with the young righty has been his inability to throw strikes and pitch late into the ball game. He addressed that by throwing 80 of 114 pitches for strike, completing seven full innings.
Critics have been worried that Atilano is pitching to contact too often, walking 21 batters while only striking out 16 going into tonight's game. He proved he was moving in the right direction tonight by striking out six and walking only one, effectively evening his K/BB ratio.
Atilano may have earned his second defeat of the season tonight, but the performance very well may have been the best of his young career. He gave his ball club a chance to win, and while his defense may have blew the opportunity, he likely earned the right to keep his job.
Atilano's pitches sat in the high 80's tonight, with his sinker and fastball averaging about 88 mph on the gun and his off-speed breaking pitches came in at around 75. He was successful by throwing his sinker the majority of the time, tossing 57 out of 114 pitches as sinkers and 71.93% of those sinkers as strikes. In the past Atilano has gotten into trouble when he couldn't place his sinker and was forced to throw his mediocre, if not poor fastball too often.
On the other side of the mound, 22-year-old rookie Mike Leake improved his record to 5-0 overall after allowing no earned runs in seven innings of work tonight. Leake attacked the Nationals with a combination of three primary pitches, a sinker, change-up, and slider. What's impressive about Leake is that like many on the Nationals pitching staff he doesn't throw in the 90's. However, much unlike the Nats pitchers, Leake does a good job of striking out hitters, averaging 6.14 K/9.
Despite playing most of the game close, the eighth inning would prove to be the turning point in the game. After Atilano left the club only down one run, the Nats bullpen, and defense, proceeded to give the game away. Several errors, an interference call on Desmond and an ejection later and the Nationals found themselves down 5-1 with only one-and-a-half innings remaining, and little to no chance of getting back in the game.
-The most valuable National tonight according to WPA was the games starter, Luis Atilano who finished with a .140 WPA. The next closest contributor was Josh Willingham who only had a .015 WPA.
-Mike Leake had an outstanding .376 WPA on the night, helping the Reds improve to 32-24 on the season.