In a series that several were pinpointing as a huge one for the Washington Nationals in a possible pursuit of the Atlanta Braves, they were able to grind out a series split on the road.
These two teams are still set to meet 10 more times before the season is out and we saw yet again how evenly matched they are, with the season series now just 5-4 in the Nats’ favor.
Here are the big takeaways from the four games in Georgia...
Dancing with the Stras
Coming off of a frustrating loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the Nats needed a strong effort from the stand-in ace, Stephen Strasburg. He certainly delivered, but perhaps not in the way you would expect.
The right-hander ran up a high pitch count, only going 5.1 innings, surrendering three runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out seven. That was enough for his league-leading 12th win of the season, but it was his bat that made the headlines in this one.
Strasburg went 3-for-3 at the dish, including five RBI and a no-doubt three-run home run.
“It’s just how crazy this game is,” the right-hander told reporters after the game.
“Obviously my focus is going out there and trying to keep the other team at bay, but sometimes you just run into the ball and I’ve always been told that a swinging bat’s a dangerous one.”
And with the home run came the now-customary home run dugout dance...
STEPHEN STRASBURG DANCING KLAXON pic.twitter.com/WYTvOO6Y1I— Blake Finney (@FinneyBlake) July 19, 2019
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, I didn’t really have anything, so not a big dancer to begin with,” Strasburg said of his thoughts as he got back to the dugout, ready to dance.
When the Nats started the dugout dancing craze, there were a few players fans couldn’t wait to see bust a move. Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer now are top of the list for players we need to see dance, but Strasburg’s was still a hilariously brilliant moment.
Robles loves playing the East
It’s always good to have a player or two who steps up the most in games within the division, just like Freddie Freeman has done his whole career. It looks as though Victor Robles has already started to make his presence known in the National League East.
In the series, the 22-year-old went 4-for-16 including a huge game-tying two-run home run in the top of the ninth on Friday. He even flashed the leather all series long with plenty of spectacular plays and showed off the rifle of an arm that he’s got.
“He has the poise,” manager Dave Martinez said of his electric outfielder. “He’s a kid, he loves the game, and he likes big moments, and he’s proven that.”
Robles certainly hasn’t shied away from the biggest spots this year, including plenty of production when it counts most against the teams that the Nats play the most.
So far this season, he’s sporting a .289/.379/.579 slash line against the NL East to go with 10 home runs, 33 runs, and 30 RBIs. He even steps it up to a remarkable .389/.500/.889 line with runners in scoring position in divisional games.
It looks like the NL East may have another star to keep circling on their lineup cards for years to come in Robles. He sure has given them their fair share of fits already.
Scherzer looks ready to go
Though it was troubling to hear that the Nationals ace wouldn’t be starting in this key four-game set, Max Scherzer now seems to be feeling much better and should be starting soon.
On Friday, two days before the day that the Nats originally hoped he would be able to go, Scherzer was unable to complete a bullpen session, still feeling nagging pain.
As it turns out, the right-hander received a cortisone shot on Tuesday, which took a few days to kick in. He also got some encouragement from an old friend that it would be fine...
“Talking to [Shawn] Kelley it was five or six days and it worked for him,” Scherzer said on Friday.
“Right now I’m Day 4 of that, so I’m trying to stay optimistic and say here in a couple days I should be feeling really good.”
Lo and behold, Scherzer was able to throw a brief 15-pitch bullpen on Saturday, with an extended bullpen on tap for Monday. If all goes well there, the Nationals are confident that he will be able to start at some point this week, though the date isn’t decided.
It’s a huge relief for Nationals fans to finally see some progress for Scherzer, whose injury had been nagging for a while. Thankfully, it looks like all systems go for the ace.
Zimm’s injury flares up
Ryan Zimmerman just can’t catch a break. He had been scorching the ball since coming back with one of the best average exit velocities in baseball. But now, it seems as though he may need to head back to the IL.
In the second inning of the game, while busting out an infield hit, he pulled up on the way to first base, hobbling the final few steps and coming out of the game immediately.
Martinez confirmed to reporters after the game that Zimmerman’s plantar fasciitis had flared up on the play and he was set for an MRI on Monday. It’s certainly a blow for the Nats who were hoping to get the first baseman going as a key cog in their lineup.
Zimmerman had actually been swinging a nice bat since returning with a .302/.326/.419 in his 43 ABs following his activation from the IL on June 28th.
Much like last season, it looked like he might be getting onto one of his hot streaks after returning from injury, but it appears as though this comeback has been cut short.
That’s not to say first base will be in bad hands if Zimmerman does miss time, with Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, and Gerardo Parra more than capable of filling in. But it’s sad to see yet another injury that could keep Mr. Walk-off out for an extended period of time again.
That ninth inning...
There’s no avoiding it. Dave Martinez’s handling of the ninth inning on Friday came under plenty of scrutiny for a number of reasons and was a huge reason the team couldn’t extend the game.
Following the dramatic game-tying two-run blast from Robles in the ninth, the manager sent Fernando Rodney back for a second inning of work, after he kept it close the inning before.
“We liked the matchup with Fernando with the two righties and then it just didn’t work out,” Martinez explained of the decision after the game. “We’re playing on the road, [Sean] Doolittle comes in the game for a save, with a tie game.”
Though not bringing Doolittle in against the top of the lineup was questionable in itself, perhaps the most bizarre part of the sequence was sending the 42-year-old Rodney out for another inning.
“He went two innings down at Triple-A. He’s done it a couple times. I went out there and he said he was good,” Martinez explained.
Rodney only recorded more than three outs once in Fresno, hardly looking sharp in that outing with a pair of walks. He also hadn’t gone a full two innings since way back on September 20th, 2013, making the choice to keep rolling with him even more dubious.
Even if Martinez doesn’t subscribe to the “new school” methodology of using your closer in that spot, saving him for the lead, using any other available reliever would’ve made more sense than extending Rodney.
Thankfully, he utilized his bullpen much better the following night, using Doolittle for 1.2 innings to secure the win. It’s a sharp learning curve for Martinez in his young managerial career, but it can be frustrating with decision-making mistakes still plentiful for the skipper.
Next up: The first of two-straight NL West opponents comes to Nationals Park, with the Colorado Rockies in town for four games. The Nats have Erick Fedde, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez likely lined up to take the mound against the Rocks.