Mitchell Parker ‘trying not to overthink anything’ as MLB debut nears

Mitchell Parker ‘trying not to overthink anything’ as MLB debut nears

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

An MLB debut can be daunting for any pitcher, no matter the opponent. But Mitchell Parker is expected to make his Monday night when the Washington Nationals (6-9) face the Los Angeles Dodgers (11-7). That makes things especially tough.

The 24-year-old left-hander is set to begin his big league career against a loaded lineup that is likely to feature 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts in the leadoff spot. If that wasn’t tough enough, reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani bats behind him. Then there’s 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman in the No. 3 spot.

That trio gives the most experienced of pitchers fits, let alone a rookie.

“I gave myself a couple minutes, but I’m trying not to overthink anything,” Parker said Sunday. “Just trying to get out there and do a job for the team. That’s all we really want to do.”

That’s about as good of a response as you could expect from Parker, whom the Nationals selected in the fifth round of the 2020 draft. He finished last season with Class AAA Rochester and was protected from the Rule 5 draft in December.

He impressed during spring training but has made just one start this year for Rochester, which has had its schedule disrupted by rain. Still, in that April 6 outing, he gave up just one unearned run in four innings.

Parker’s arrival now is somewhat unlikely; he made just three starts at Class AAA in 2023, posting a 10.45 ERA. And Rochester right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Joan Adon have big league experience.

But necessity thrust Parker into the mix sooner than expected. The first domino fell Tuesday, when righty Josiah Gray went on the 15-day injured list with a strained right flexor muscle, creating a hole in the rotation.

Adon filled in that day but was optioned back to Rochester afterward. Catcher Drew Millas was recalled to fill Adon’s place and start Wednesday; in the lineup, Millas replaced Keibert Ruiz, who has been dealing with the flu. The Nationals thought Ruiz could play by Friday, so they sent Millas back down after Wednesday’s game. But Ruiz’s illness has now sidelined him for five games, and Manager Dave Martinez said the team would have to consider making a move for another catcher. The Nationals had recalled reliever Amos Willingham to fill Millas’s roster spot, then sent him back to Rochester after Sunday’s game.

A position player must spend 10 days in the minors before he can be called up again, unless he is being promoted for a doubleheader or is filling in for a player on the injured list. That means Millas — the only catcher on the 40-man roster beyond Ruiz and Riley Adams — could only be called up if someone goes on the IL. A pitcher must remain in the minors for 15 days, so that ruled out Adon for Monday night. Rutledge was hit by a comebacker Thursday and needed help getting off the field — but even before that, Martinez said he wanted Rutledge to make a few more starts in Class AAA to find his rhythm.

So that made Parker the choice for Monday. He expects to have eight friends and family members in attendance for his debut.

Parker uses three pitches — a fastball, a curveball and a splitter. His fastball and curveball complement each other well. This spring, Parker said he spent the offseason working to improve the splitter, which he called a “hit or miss” pitch a season ago. MLB Pipeline rates him the Nationals’ 21st-best prospect.

“He’s very composed,” Martinez said. “He’s got a good mix of pitches. So he’s going to go out there and hopefully keep us in the game.”

Perhaps Parker can look to righty Jake Irvin for inspiration. Irvin was called up last season after just five starts in Class AAA but did enough to cement a spot in Washington’s rotation.

Parker is likely to have a tougher time sticking around because he’s replacing Gray, an all-star last season. But Monday is his first chance to prove he belongs. He’ll try to treat it like any other game.

“Just trying to process it,” he said Sunday. “And then making sure when we go outside to play catch, just look around a little more — I mean, first big league stadium. And tomorrow will be the first start, so just trying to take it all in and make sure to breathe.”

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