There was progress from the Washington Nationals at least. Instead of a four-game sweep like the previous series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nats split the weekend series with the Atlanta Braves and actually showed some life at the plate.
The first game of the series felt very familiar as the Braves piled on the misery with the Nats unable to muster up much offense. However, the visitors’ bats picked up in the next couple of games to grab a pair of wins before Atlanta won the finale on Sunday.
Here are the main takeaways from the four games at Truist Park...
About damn time
While the Nats certainly looked a lot better on the field in this series, the biggest takeaway of the weekend has to be the news that Mike Rizzo finally received his contract extension.
It had been a long time coming. Rizzo had been the architect of rebuilding a basement-dwelling franchise to a perennial contender that culminated in the first World Series in franchise history and the first title in D.C. baseball history since 1924.
There was anxiety among the fanbase with Rizzo’s contract having less than two months left. In the end, though, the Nationals did the right thing and gave him the extension he so richly deserved.
“I’m elated for him,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters before Saturday’s game. “He deserves it. He built this organization. Good for him. Like I said, it’s just one unbelievable job he’s done with this organization and he goes down as a champion so he gets more years to build this up again and do it again.”
Now that Rizzo finally has his new deal, it means he can finally look ahead with absolute certainty that he will be here next year. It’s clear what his first piece of business should be...
“That’s priority one is to get Davey taken care of,” Rizzo said on Sunday, alluding to wanting to agree to a new contract for his skipper. “My plan is, and my preference is, to not pick up the option and go well beyond that and that’s the plan going forward, see if we can get something done and negotiate a longer-term deal with him that goes beyond just picking up the option.”
If nothing else good comes out of this season, then the Nationals can still be extremely thankful that they will still have their World Series-winning GM at the helm moving forward.
Holt gets a jolt
What a difference a weekend makes. After being signed in late-August, Brock Holt was having about as rough a time as anyone on the team, going 0-for-10 before this series.
Had that skid continued, it might’ve been a fairly short-lived stint with the Nats for Holt.
Once the team landed in Georgia though, Holt was a new man. Over the course of the series, the 32-year-old went a combined 8-for-12, raising his batting average from .075 entering the weekend to .212 following Sunday’s game.
Holt acknowledged how rough it had been so far, but believed results would come soon...
“Obviously it was a tough go for me there for a while,” Holt said after the series. “But I tried not to focus so much on the results or the numbers, and I just tried to focus on having good at-bats and taking the positives out of it, even if I got out, if I felt like I had a good at-bat or put together a good at-bat, hit a ball hard, that was my hit.
“I’m trying to still focus on the little things like that and the more good at-bats you can put together the better off you’re going to be.”
At this point, with the Nationals way out of postseason contention, the last three weeks of the season will likely serve as an extended audition for Holt to earn another big league job in 2021, be it with Washington or elsewhere in the league.
If he has more series like the one he had in Atlanta, he certainly won’t be short of suitors.
Before a pitch was thrown in this series, the Nats were already put on the back foot when their borderline MVP candidate, Juan Soto, was scratched from the first game of the doubleheader.
Initially penciled in hitting second behind Trea Turner, Soto was taken out of the lineup about 20 minutes before first pitch with left elbow soreness. Though it was obviously a bit jarring to have their star taken out of the lineup, the Nationals don’t think it’s serious.
“Juan Soto came in with his elbow was sore,” Martinez explained ahead of the four-game set. “Got an MRI, everything came out clean, we’re going to give him a couple days, he’s pretty tender.
“It’s his throwing elbow, so we’re going to see how he feels tomorrow and then go from there, but I’m assuming he’s going to need a couple days off.”
The hope obviously is that Soto will return to the lineup in the next few days. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Nationals were to play things cautiously with their franchise player and hold him out a little longer if necessary to make sure that he’s fully healthy again.
As has been a theme for most of the season, the Nationals continue to get subpar results from their rotation depth. The series-opening doubleheader was a microcosm of that struggle.
In the first game, Austin Voth appeared to start well — which was at least progress from his previous three starts — before fading in the middle innings, finishing with five earned runs against him on seven hits, three of which were homers, and two walks over 4.2 innings.
What ended up coming back to bite Voth was the three home runs allowed in the start.
Dansby Swanson got one and Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a pair, even if he didn’t think much of the first one off the bat, as the right-hander left too many pitches over the heart of the plate.
“I thought Voth threw the ball better,” Martinez explained. “His velo was better, his command was a tick off, I told him today that he’s got to start utilizing his curveball a little bit more, but I think overall he threw the ball better so hopefully we’re heading in the right direction.”
It didn’t get a whole lot better from a rotation perspective in the second game.
Called up as the 29th man for the doubleheader, Wil Crowe couldn’t get out of the third inning as his command seemed to fail him.
He finished with 2.1 innings of working, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks while striking out three.
He also struggled with the long ball, allowing two in the second inning to Austin Riley and Acuña.
“Wil came in and he was amped up, he wanted the ball,” Martinez said. “I thought he threw the ball okay. I mean, when he misses he usually misses down the middle, so we’ve got to get him to live on the outer thirds of the plate. And same thing with him, he’s got a good changeup and good slider, and just know when to use it, but I thought he did really well.”
Both outings were less than ideal for a manager who has been constantly emphasizing that he wants to see his starters go deep into games to save his bullpen. That leaves Martinez with some decisions to make on who he wants to see fill out the rotation the rest of the way.
Voth appears to still have the fifth starter spot for now, but Crowe should get another chance in the not too distant future with more doubleheaders on tap in a couple of weeks.
Next up: The Nationals will finally head back to D.C. after a long road trip and get ready to face another first-place team in the Tampa Bay Rays for two games. Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez are lined up to start the games with the Nats hoping to play spoiler.