After a second straight loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 28th left the Washington Nationals five games under .500 at 11-16, first-year skipper Davey Martinez talked about the message he delivered to his team to keep spirits up in spite of the rough start they were off to as they tried for a third straight division title and a fifth in the last seven seasons.
“I told them all, ‘Hey, you guys are playing with heart. I love it,” Martinez said. “‘And you guys are pulling for each other, and this thing will change, just let’s believe in ourselves and keep going, keep fighting, that’s all I ask you guys to do. Keep fighting, keep believing.’”
A win over the D-backs in the finale of that three-game set in the nation’s capital started a six-game winning streak.
In 15 games since, the Nationals have now won 13 of 15 as they’ve surged from 6.0 games back in the division to 1.5 games out after they completed a four-game sweep in Phoenix, Arizona’s Chase Field this past weekend.
The Diamondbacks, who were 19-7 after their back-to-back wins in D.C. in late April, have now lost five straight and nine of their last 14, going from a 5.0-game lead in the NL West down to 2.5 games up after the fourth consecutive loss in the series finale with the Nats on Sunday night.
D-backs’ skipper Torey Lovullo told reporters after the latest loss, in which his team rallied late but fell short, that he liked the effort he saw even if the results weren’t there.
“These are the grinding, hard days that all good teams go through ... all teams go through,” Lovullo said. “And this is when we’ve got to stick together, this is when we’ve got to believe in one another, we’ve got to keep pounding and fighting and grinding away at all the things that we remember we can do.”
“It’s been a tough, grinding time, and that’s what this game is,” Lovullo said at another point in his post game press conference. “That’s what it does to you. It challenges you. It gives you the feeling that you’re never going to score a run again, and then the very next day you can do the exact opposite thing.”
During the D-backs’ rally late in the finale, which saw them score three in the seventh to tie it up at 4-4 before Mark Reynolds hit a two-run blast in the eighth to lift the Nationals to their fourth win in a row in Arizona, Lovullo said that for a moment there, he remembered the good old days, “... of like maybe what, ten days ago, 7-10 days ago when we were hitting the ball and doing the things that we can do.”
Martinez’s Nats are on the other end of that now, swinging it well, winning close games, and feeling like things that didn’t go their way early this season are over the last few weeks.
“I keep saying these guys play with a lot of heart, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Martinez said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jack McGruder after Sunday’s win.
“They are really starting to click, and I love coming to the ballpark and watching them play.”
Up next, are the New York Yankees (weather permitting), who are in D.C. for a two-game set in Nationals Park, where the Nats are (10-10) early this season.
The 6-1 road trip the Nationals wrapped up on Sunday left Martinez’s squad 14-8 away from Washington.
Will they bring the momentum back home with them against a tough Yankees team that’s 28-12 overall and 10-5 on the road heading into the matchup?