The way things were going heading into the All-Star Break, with the Washington Nationals winners of 28 of 39 going back to May 24th, Nats’ manager Davey Martinez had to think a minute before answering when a reporter asked if he would rather keep going than take a few days off for the Midsummer Classic.
“I’d say the way we’re playing, yeah, keep going is great,” Martinez said, after a win in the first-half finale with the Kansas City Royals gave the Nationals a sweep of the three-game series, “but I think we all need a break, I really do.
“Like I said, a break would be good for some guys that are beat up right now, and we’ll just come back and keep going the way we’re going.”
A week later, after back-to-back wins over the Philadelphia Phillies to start the second-half, Martinez talked before the series finale in Citizens Bank Park about the Nats’ success over the first 13 games of 2019 with their NL East rivals, against whom they were 9-4 going into the third of three.
“We come ready to play and our plan is to always be in attack mode against them,” Martinez said. “Their pitching is good and we try to make them pitch, and that’s been the key.
“Yesterday we talked about getting [Aaron] Nola’s pitch count up, we did that,” he added, “... but you know they’re good, and I told these guys, I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be aggressive, be aggressive early, but don’t quit. Anything can happen,’ and as you saw last night, we had a good comeback win.”
Juan Soto’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead after they’d trailed all night on Saturday in South Philadelphia, and they held on for their second straight win in the series and their fifth-straight victory over the Phils.
In the third game with the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, Martinez’s squad fell behind again, down 3-1 after six innings, but they tied it up in the top of the seventh, only to lose it in the bottom of the ninth when lefty reliever Matt Grace gave up a one-out walk-off home run on a first-pitch sinker up in the zone for Maikel Franco that the slugger hit out to left.
“I think he tried to get the ball in and it just ran over the plate,” Martinez said of Grace’s final pitch.
“Ball up on [Franco] is — he’s been swinging the bat well, a ball up on him is not good.”
As part of their sustained stretch of success over the last two months, the Nationals have now been tied or ahead in the seventh inning or later for 22 consecutive games, as MASN reporter Mark Zuckerman noted on Twitter on Sunday.
“They don’t quit,” Martinez said when that fact was pointed out in his post game presser after the 4-3 loss.
“That’s one thing I’ve said before, they don’t quit, they keep battling, today was just — you’re playing a good team over there, with good players, like I said, it was just unfortunate the game ended that way, but I love the way we’re playing ... have a day off, and come back strong against Baltimore.”
“We battled back,” he added at another point. “We were down, we battled back.”
“Come here and win two out of three, day off, go back, go to Baltimore and try to win that first game.”
The first of two with the Orioles in Oriole Park at Camden Yards takes place at 7:05 PM EDT on Tuesday.
Martinez told reporters before yesterday’s game that they’ll give Austin Voth another turn in the rotation in the first of two with the O’s, since Max Scherzer, who was expected to start it before he ended up in the Injured List with a lingering back issue over the weekend, is still a few days away from returning to the mound in game action in the team’s estimation.
“I like what Austin’s done when he’s up here,” Martinez said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Paul Casella on Sunday. “And his last outing down there, he pitched really, really well. I like the fact that he goes out there, and he has presence. He has poise.
“He’s throwing the ball well, so we’re going to give him an opportunity to start.”
Spencer Kieboom came up when Scherzer went on the IL this weekend, but Martinez said he was not sure what they would do in terms of roster changes in order to make room for Voth.
“We have a DH [in Baltimore],” Martinez said, “so after the game I’ll sit down with [GM Mike Rizzo] and figure out what we’re going to do. As of right now Tuesday Voth will start, and that’s as far we’ve gotten so far.”