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MIAMI — The sight of runners standing on base as he hustles from the bullpen to the mound invigorates Andres Machado. Sure, having no men on when he enters the game would give him a head start, but that doesn’t spark the same kind of adrenaline rush.
“I like to come in when there’s the pressure with people on,” Machado said. “That’s what I like — the pressure.”
Machado has embraced that pressure with the Nationals this season, his first in the Major Leagues since 2017. The 28-year-old right-hander has made 34 relief appearances since the Nats selected his contract from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on June 12. He has posted a 3.48 ERA over 31 innings, including six games finished. Of Machado’s three home runs allowed this season, none were surrendered with runners on base.
“Sometimes when I come in [in] a clean inning, I’ve got different emotions,” Machado said recently. “When I come in with men on first or second or I get people on, my mind changes, like I’ve got pressure now. So I feel more focused. I don’t know why that happens to me. I like that moment.”
This season marks Machado’s most consistent stint in the bigs. He appeared in two games for the Royals in 2017, when he posted a 22.09 ERA across 3 2/3 innings. Since then, he worked his way through the Minors and played in an independent league last season. Machado arrived in Washington hungry for the opportunity to pitch.
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“He said, ‘You put me in. Any time, anywhere, I don’t care. I’m going to do the best I can do to get guys out,’” manager Dave Martinez recounted of their early conversations. “He has that mentality where he’s not afraid. He’s a bulldog. He wants to compete — he loves to compete and he’s going to do everything he can to help us win.”
On Monday against the Marlins, Machado delivered a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He retired the side on 11 pitches — a lineout and back-to-back strikeouts. Over his last five appearances, he has limited opponents to a .125 batting average (2-for-16) and allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings (2.08 ERA). He put together a stretch of 18 games from July 17-Aug. 30 in which he recorded a 0.96 ERA and held opponents to a .159 batting average.
Machado has been implementing the advice of slugging catcher Salvador Perez, a former Royals teammate and close friend since 2013: “Attack the zone every time.” A better command of his fastball and its location has helped him to do so. Machado leans on that pitch, which averages 94.9 mph, for 58.1 percent of his mix.
“When I get the first strike, I feel comfortable. And I’ve got a couple more pitches,” he said. “I’ve got my slider, I’ve got my changeup, I’ve got my two-seam — I can work with that. I am never afraid to throw a strike because when you don’t throw a strike, that’s when the problems come. If you walk people, you get men on and you have to figure that out.”
Coming into focus
It’s never too late in the season to make adjustments. Outfielder Andrew Stevenson began wearing glasses last weekend during the series against the Rockies to help him see more clearly at the plate. Specifically, the spin on sliders has been made more clear thanks to the glasses. So far, so good for Stevenson, who didn’t find wearing contact lenses comfortable. He is 1-for-2 since the change.