January 30, 2023

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Adon pounds the zone, stays 'on the attack'

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After season-low 3 2/3 innings and season-high 5 walks, righty issues no free passes
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MIAMI — It won’t go down as a “W” in the scorebooks, but that’s OK. Joan Adon did something much more important for the rebuilding Nationals on Tuesday: He bounced back.

First baseman Josh Bell referred to Adon as “our future” pregame, and Adon, the Nationals’ No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline, showed off the promising potential Washington is banking on against Miami on Tuesday.

Adon was solid in the 5-1 loss to the Marlins at loanDepot park, allowing just one run over 4 2/3 innings. His redemption comes after he felt “weird” during his prior start on May 12, which was also his shortest outing of the season (3 2/3 innings vs. the Mets). 

Manager Dave Martinez had noticed the right-hander’s mechanics were off during that start, so Adon and pitching coach Jim Hickey got together for a bullpen session. Hickey worked to help Adon slow down and solidify mechanics (like staying in his legs) that would get results. 

Tuesday’s outing was evidence that the bullpen session worked and that those revamped (or at least slowed down) mechanics stuck with Adon. The 23-year-old allowed five hits (one home run) and hit one batter while striking out two. 

“His pitch count got up there a little bit, but [it was] 65 percent strikes,” Martinez said. “I think his velo was the highest he’s thrown all year. But his tempo, the way he controlled his body, his mechanics, was way, way better.”

Ahead of Adon’s eighth start of the season, Martinez’s goal for Adon was simple: Throw more strikes and attack the zone.

Adon accomplished that goal. He threw 54 strikes out of 84 pitches, including seven first-pitch strikes, and he did not walk a batter all night. It marked his first game without issuing a walk this year, after walking five batters in each of his prior two starts.

“I’ve been working on it this whole week,” Adon said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “And after the bad start last time with my control and command, with the five walks, it feels good to be able to command the zone today and actually throw a lot more strikes.”

Even when he threw a first-pitch ball, Adon battled back. Let’s dive into the second of Adon’s two strikeouts. The Marlins had a runner on first with one out in the third inning. Up stepped hot-hitting Jazz Chisholm Jr., who took two balls to start the at-bat. Behind in the count, Adon dropped a fastball in the middle of the zone and down, which Chisholm fouled off. Adon then placed two more fastballs slightly up in the zone for two swinging strikes to complete the K.

“He was aggressive with the fastball,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Adon. “He was getting after our guys, and it seems like he’s got really good stuff. … He was throwing a lot of fastballs — he was on the attack. He used his breaking ball enough to make you think about it, but I thought he was aggressive today. … He was on the hunt today with the fastball, and he pitched really well.”

With his retooled mechanics, Adon’s pitch velocity also rose. He threw 37 pitches that registered at 96 mph or higher, and three that registered at approximately 98 mph. That’s another encouraging sign to Martinez, and for Adon himself, who said it felt good when he saw the scoreboard flash “98 mph” after a pitch.

The only run Adon allowed on the night was a home run to Miguel Rojas, who led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a blast to left field. It was the first long ball Adon allowed since April 24, and his fifth allowed this season.

But even that homer is proof that Adon accomplished what Martinez wanted: throwing strikes. That Rojas went yard matters in the final result, sure, but in the long run — which is generally the Nationals’ focus during their rebuild, especially with developing youngsters like Adon — it matters more that Adon was consistently locating and blowing his fastball by batters.

“For me, it was about getting him out there in a positive [outing],” Martinez said. “He gave up one home run, but I thought he threw the ball really well. … I told him, ‘Let’s build off of that and get you your next five days.’”

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