The Washington Nationals finally played someone not in the American League East!
The New York Mets came to town stumbling out of the gate, but in the two-game set, the two teams recorded a split in a pair of relatively low-scoring games.
The Nats took the opener on Tuesday 5-3 before the Mets struck back with a 3-1 win in the finale on Wednesday.
Here are the main takeaways from the two games in the nation’s capital...
Can you call something that was only delayed by less than two weeks long-awaited? Asking for a friend. If you can, then Juan Soto’s 2020 debut was definitely long-awaited by the Nationals.
Though the Nats activated him on Tuesday, the 21-year-old was only available for pinch-hit duties as Dave Martinez played it cautious with his superstar — though nobody told him he couldn’t be a pinch-dancing on the dugout-er.
The shackles were off on Wednesday though and Soto wasted no time picking up where he left off last season.
In his first at-bat, Soto ripped an RBI double down the left field line like he’d never been away. He then followed it up with a line drive single to right field in his second at-bat.
“He was really good,” manager Dave Martinez said after Soto’s season debut.
“He worked good at-bats all night. The play he made in the outfield, it was a tough play, I’m glad he got up and was okay, but he played well.”
He barely missed a beat both at the plate and in the field. The swagger, the plate discipline, and the improved defense were all on display in the first game. Barely any rust at all.
In Soto’s absence, the Nats’ offense wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. With their star player back in tow, they will hope that he can be a catalyst for the lineup and get the team back on track now that they appear to have a clean bill of health on that side of the ball.
Say hey to J-Hay
Though Josh Harrison had already made one start for the Nationals at DH before this week, it was Tuesday’s series opener against the Mets where he really announced his arrival.
In the game, Harrison went 1-for-3 with a home run and a stolen base. More importantly, Harrison showed off some impressive dance moves in the ceremonial dugout dance.
Meanwhile, lost while Soto literally danced on the dugout, Josh Harrison has some MOVES. He'll fit in here. pic.twitter.com/bZSMenG3Is— Blake Finney (@FinneyBlake) August 4, 2020
The fun, energetic utility man is already fitting like a glove in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
“I love his energy,” Martinez said after Tuesday’s game. “He brings a lot with him. Plays multiple positions.
“He swung the bat well today, stole a base for us, but I was really impressed with his dancing. Pretty good dancer.”
As a player who can play almost everywhere in the infield and at both corner outfield spots, Harrison is an incredibly useful player to have around, and also one that should also be a huge boost to a clubhouse that was already intent on carrying over last year’s good vibes.
He won’t play every day, but Harrison could end up being a pretty valuable player for the Nats...
Even though the Nationals offense didn’t get a whole lot going in the second game of the series, the biggest concern to come out of the game was their ace, Max Scherzer, pitching one inning before being pulled from the game in favor of Erick Fedde.
Scherzer just looked off in the first frame, with a fastball sitting in the low-90s rather than the usual mid-90s, and nowhere near command or movement the right-hander is used to.
After the game, Scherzer and Martinez both confirmed that it was his hamstring that he tweaked yesterday coming into the start rather than something done during the start.
“We knew going in he had tweaked it yesterday a little bit,” Martinez told reporters after the game. “He said he felt fine. We talked to him today again, and he said he was good to pitch.
“After the first inning we thought differently and he agreed and just want to make sure that we keep him right.
“He said after the game that he felt fine so we’ll see what happens between now and his next start.”
Evidently, the manager and Scherzer are confident that this won’t be a bigger issue and that the right-hander could make his next scheduled start against the same Mets.
Even so, the fact the Nats’ ace has an “ailment” is at least worth monitoring over the next few days.
Nationals fans have been blessed at the hot corner ever since the franchise came to the nation’s capital.
For 14 of the team’s first 15 seasons in Washington, they were able to rely on either Ryan Zimmerman or Anthony Rendon to be their primary third baseman.
This season, the Nats have officially handed the reins over to Carter Kieboom. A shortstop coming through the minors, he’s essentially learning on-the-fly at the big league level, and unfortunately, that still shows.
In Tuesday’s series opener, Kieboom committed a throwing error as well as having trouble with a pair of hard ground balls. Even though both grounders were not easy and eventually ruled hits, not errors, they were plays he probably should be making at the big league level.
“Two difficult plays for me,” Martinez explained. “It’s something that, like I said, he hasn’t played much over there. We had him for an abbreviated time during Spring and then 2.0, but he has gotten better.
“We talked, I’m sure Chip [Hale] is going to talk to him today about both those balls, but he’s doing a lot better. He’s getting confidence every time he goes out there and is playing that position.”
Kieboom’s defensive issues are definitely tolerable while he’s off to a solid start at the plate with a .417/.563/.417 slash line, four walks and five strikeouts through his first four games.
The rough edges are certainly to be expected for Kieboom. If anything, this weird season is a good time to make them as he gets accustomed to the position in the majors...
What to do with Doo
In what turned out to be a somewhat uneventful two-game series, it does feel a little harsh to single out Sean Doolittle in the ugly section. With that said, his outing in the second game of this series is certainly enough to cause concern for the rest of his season.
After some velocity issues in his first couple of starts, the left-hander attempted to make the most of the four-day break by working on some mechanical issues. However, when he entered the game in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s game, it was more of the same.
Doolittle’s fastball once again sat between 90 and 91mph and the Mets took advantage, recording a walk, a hard lineout, and two base hits before he was removed from the game.
“He’s working on some stuff,” Martinez explained during the team’s workouts before the series. “We’ve got to let him work through this. He understands where he’s at. I’m going to encourage him to continue to keep pushing, like I always do, and we’ll see.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before his velo gets back to where it needs to be.”
The shorter preseason no doubt has some pitchers a little way off where they want to be in the early stages of the season and Doolittle is among that group. Unfortunately, while his velocity stays in the low-90s, it’s tough for the Nats to trust Doolittle in high-leverage spots.
While the Nationals clearly have faith that Doolittle’s velocity will return with more game action, every outing where it doesn’t will just increase the worry that the lefty’s days as a late-inning reliever may be in doubt...
Next up: After another day off today, the Nationals will be back in action on Friday as they welcome their beltway rivals in the Baltimore Orioles. Aníbal Sánchez and Austin Voth are scheduled to start the first two games of the three-games set before, hopefully, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg will round out the series making his season debut on Sunday.