After the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up a sweep when they completed the suspended game on Friday evening, the Washington Nationals knew they were in for another tough series.
The visitors cruised to victory in the series opener on Friday, the hosts then jumped out to an early lead they wouldn't rescind on Saturday, then the Nats battled hard for a one-run victory in the series finale on Sunday, taking two of the three games for a series win.
Here are the main takeaways from the three games in Baltimore...
García steps up
It’s not quite how the Nationals planned to bring Luis García up to the big leagues, but when Starlin Castro broke his wrist during the resumption of the suspended game on Friday, the team decided to bring up their top remaining prospect who was not on the roster.
Later that night, when García was officially added to the active roster, he became the youngest player in the big leagues, not that you would know it based on his first game.
Batting sixth in his debut, the 20-year-old went 2 for 5 with a double and 2 RBIs. He also held his own in the field and looked comfortable at the keystone during the game.
“I liked his at-bats,” manager Dave Martinez said after García’s debut. “He went up there against some left-handed pitching today, and he stood his ground. He was good. We knew that about him.
“As far as playing second base, he can play second, short, he’s got a good glove. He’s just a kid with a lot of energy, loves to play, but he looked really good out there, so he’s going to get a chance to play second base almost every day, so we’ll see what happens.”
In a season that feels less legitimate than usual, and a season that’s not started according to plan, it’s definitely not a bad time for the team to bed in its young talent such as García and fellow infielder, Carter Kieboom, who will benefit from big league time under their belt.
Elsewhere in the infield, the Nationals are finally starting to see Trea Turner turn things around.
Coming into the road trip, Turner held a poor .196/.240/.304 slash line with only three extra-base hits and seven strikeouts compared to three walks. As the lineup’s catalyst at the top of the order, when he’s not going well at the plate, it trickles down to the rest of the lineup.
However, since the road trip started, he’s clicked into gear and recovered his slash line to a more respectable .289/.353/.487 following a 7-for-13 series with a home run against the Orioles.
His manager has noticed the improvement in his game recently and praised his approach.
“He’s starting to swing the bat really well,” Martinez explained. “One thing I noticed with him is he’s starting to catch the ball out front a little bit more, which is kind of nice.
“He’s that kind of player. He’s the impact player that we all fall behind. This team, he’s the guy that makes us go, and he’s playing really well.”
It wasn’t a coincidence that the Nats’ turnaround in 2019 began when Turner returned to the team following his broken finger early on in the year. His power-speed combination causes opposing pitchers headaches and the more he gets on base, the more he can do just that.
If he can continue his good form over the remainder of the season, it could be just the jolt the Nationals’ lineup needs after an underwhelming start to the season...
Max and Pat get rocked
Even though many experts would’ve tipped the Nationals to have the best rotation in baseball this season, it’s not quite played out that way through the first few weeks.
So far this season, Nats’ starters sport a mediocre combined 4.83 ERA and combined 1.44 WHIP, ranking 20th and 26th in the majors respectively.
In line with that trend, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer underwhelmed against the Orioles in this series.
The left-hander allowed five runs in five innings on eight hits and a walk with just two strikeouts while the right-hander allowed five runs in seven innings with 10 strikeouts.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this — they’re the big reason why we did what we did last year,” Martinez explained to reporters on Saturday when asked about the rotation’s struggles.
“I asked them to do a lot of different things, especially when we got to the playoffs. With that being said, right now they’re struggling a little bit. We’re all trying to pick them up.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in all those guys, that they’re going to be okay. It’s just been a rough start obviously. These are veteran guys. They’ll figure it out, hopefully sooner than later.”
The stumbling rotation has been one of the main reasons the Nationals have failed to live up to expectations in this shortened season. This is a roster built around the strength of the starting pitching and when they aren’t performing, it’s going to be tough to get results.
Many would still take the same bet as Martinez and count on them to bounce back as a group, but it’s worth monitoring and could determine the Nationals’ activity at the trade deadline which looms at the end of August.
Stras shut down
With the quick ramp up for the 2020 season, it’s clear that Major League Baseball has an injury problem with so many of the game’s big names snakebitten by injuries.
The Nats are not immune to that. To go along with Castro’s broken wrist, the Nats are now unsure of the status of their World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg.
Starting the first game of the series on Friday, Strasburg pitched to just three hitters, giving up a home run to Anthony Santander, before his manager pulled him because of further concern over the nerve issue that’s bothered him all year.
“I don’t want to see him out there shaking his hand in pain,” Martinez told reporters after the game. “So I think the best thing right now is to kind of shut him down and see if we can get this straightened out.”
“I hope he understands, and I hope he knows where I’m coming from and where our medical staff is coming from. He’s going to be here for a lot of years, he’s going to pitch a lot of innings, and in order to do that he’s got to be healthy.”
After the Nationals signed their home-grown ace to a mammoth extension this offseason, the last thing they want to see is him aggravate an injury during a shorted season in 2020, especially with his injury history.
This is the right move for the Nats to make, and it might even be worth considering whether to just shut him down completely this year to get him healthy and ready to go again in 2021.
Next up: The Nationals’ long first road trip continues with a trip to Georgia to face the reigning NL East champion Atlanta Braves. Aníbal Sánchez, Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde appear to be lined up to start the three-game set for the Nats, but it’s not set in stone yet.