Heading into this weekend’s three-game set in the nation’s capital, both the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves were rolling, with the Braves, currently in first place in the NL East, winners of 14 of their last 18, and the third-place Nationals, coming off three straight over the Philadelphia Phillies, winners of 17 of 24 overall.
Davey Martinez’s squad was 7.5 back of the Braves going into the series opener, with a lot of ground to make up after a dismal start to the 2019 campaign, but the second-year skipper’s advice for his team, as always, was to stay focused on the task at hand.
“Let’s just take care of the now,” Martinez said. “Stay in the moment. The moment could be really awesome, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and they’ve been — they’re playing one pitch at a time and you can tell that they’re enjoying themselves, they’re having fun, the clubhouse has got a lot of energy, so just stay there, stay in the moment, don’t think about what’s going to happen next game, just play the game and have fun doing it.”
The run the Nationals have been on in the last month has them back in the conversation at least, though they have a lot of ground to make up, but with the team mostly healthy finally, Martinez said that the same approach he’s preached since Day 1 is paying off.
“I’ve always said, ‘the process is fearless,’” the manager explained. “We stick to the process, we come, we’re prepared every day, and you hope at the end of the day you come out with a victory.
“Now it’s happening, and that part of it does feel good, but we’ve got to prepare for the next day, which is today, and do everything we can to win today.”
The Nationals’ 17-7 record in the last 24 ranked second among all major league teams over that stretch, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (19-7), and they improved to 18-7 with a 4-3 win over the Braves in the series opener in the nation’s capital, rallying from a 3-0 hole for a their third win in three games with Atlanta this season.
Stephen Strasburg held the Braves to the three runs they scored early and his teammates picked him up with four unanswered runs, then the bullpen (with Javy Guerra, Tony Sipp, Trevor Rosenthal, and Wander Suero tonight) combined for three scoreless innings to lock down the win.
“My credit is to the boys,” Martinez said after the Nationals pulled within a game of .500.
“We were down 3-0, they come back, work their way back, claw their way back, Stras kept us in the game, and then as you guys are all aware, we had a couple of the guys down in the bullpen and the rest of the guys stepped up. Just like I said in the beginning, we need them all, and they proved it tonight.”
It wasn’t all good, of course, and the Nationals might have made it harder on themselves than was necessary, going 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position on the night, though they came through with Victor Robles tripling with Brian Dozier on second base for their first run of the game before scoring from third on a sac bunt by Michael A. Taylor.
Yan Gomes hit a solo home run to tie it up in the at bat after Taylor’s RBI bunt, and Anthony Rendon came through with the Nationals’ only other hit with a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth, driving Juan Soto in after he’d tripled to start the frame.
“I would have liked us to get all those runs,” Martinez joked, “but like I said, you always feel like we’re in the game. Three runs, kind of, Stras is keeping us in the game, and I really felt like, hey, if we can get the ball up things will happen. We had a big inning, Michael puts down the safety squeeze, beautiful, we get a run and Gomes hit a home run, so we tied the game I felt pretty good, and I thought as the game progressed we’ll start hitting [Braves’ starter Dallas Keuchel] a little better and we got one more than the other guy and that’s all it took.”
What changed after the Keuchel held the Nats off the board in his first three innings on the mound in the majors this season?
“We made him get the ball up a little bit, that was the big thing. He’s a veteran pitcher, he knows how to pitch, obviously. After the first couple times around we got the ball up.”
“That was a lot of fun,” Martinez said, summing things up after the fifth straight win overall.
“I enjoyed that.”