Washington Nationals’ Manager Davey Martinez preaches patience and persistence, telling his players to keep grinding, keep seeing pitches, keep finding ways to get on, and the hits will come.
Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks was the proof.
An offense that had struggled for the first 10 games of the season to score baserunners broke out against one of the National League’s bright, young pitchers and an Arizona bullpen that doesn’t like to pitch from behind.
The Nationals erupted for a season-high 15 hits, five with runners in scoring position. The Nationals put the leadoff runner aboard a season-high seven times, and drove that runner in three times.
Juan Soto and Josh Bell were both hitless, but the rest of the lineup came through. Hitters who have struggled so far in even advancing baserunners came up with big days at the plate.
No one had a bigger day than catcher Yan Gomes, who came into the day with no extra-base hits and only one RBI on the season. Gomes not only put the Nationals on the board in the second inning with a solo homer on a 3-for-4, two-RBI day, his throw to catch Arizona center fielder Tim Locastro on a fifth-inning steal attempt was key in keeping the D-backs from taking the lead.
“I was just trying to stay more inside of it and letting it get a little bit deeper,” said Gomes of his swing on the home run. ”Credit to (batting coach Kevin Long and and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler) they helped me out.”
“He was on time, on time and staying on top of the ball,” said Martinez. “I joked around with him a little bit today about not batting the pitcher behind him, so he hit a home run.”
Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber each had three hits, and Starlin Castro had two, including an RBI single after Scwarber led off the seventh with a double. Castro also led off the fourth with a double and scored on another double by Andrew Stevenson, getting a platoon start against Arizona righty Luke Weaver.
The clutch offensive output secured the first victory of the season for Nats’ starter Erick Fedde, who’s now 1-1. The right-hander had a lively cutter that made his changeup and curveball effective against the free-swinging D-backs. He tied his career high with nine strikeouts over five innings, allowing five hits, a walk, and one run.
“I think I had a couple punch-outs in the first inning on changeups, which is a big feel pitch,” said Fedde afterward. “And when you have that early I think it’s a good sign, especially it leads to guys not being able to sit on the fastball too much.”
After getting pulled in the second inning of his first start this season, Fedde has now allowed just two earned runs and walked three batters over his last 9 2⁄3 innings.
“Probably execution,” said Fedde when asked what made the difference. “Lately I’ve been able to throw breaking balls early in the count for strikes and really throw my cutter up in the zone.”
The only run Fedde allowed came on a solo homer by Kole Calhoun in the third, a half inning after Gomes put the Nats ahead 1-0, with a home run to left. Key for the Nats was the play before Calhoun’s homer, when leadoff man Tim Locastro, 29-for-29 on stolen bases in his big league career, took off for second after a leadoff single and several pickoff attempts from Fedde.
Gomes barely paused as he brought in the 2-1 cutter and fired to Castro at second. The crouching Casto caught the ball chest high and put down a sweep tag on Locastro’s helmet, just before the diving runner’s fingers made contact with the bag. Locastro injured a finger on the play and left the game.
“The kid can run, he’s a good base stealer,” said Gomes. “But it really just comes down to from a pitcher’s standpoint we put in a lot of picks, we almost picked him off one time, and then from my standpoint, trying not to do too much.
“Tendency is when you’ve got a super-fast runner like that you want to do something that’s not you and you end up airmailing it, so just try to stay within yourself and try to make a good throw.”
Two pitches later, Calhoun homered to deep center on one of Fedde’s few bad pitches of the day. But with Locastro out, the homer only tied the game at one, instead of giving Arizona the lead.
Stevenson, who uncharacteristically lost a fly ball in the sun in the first, made up for the error in the Washington fourth by pulling a 2-2 change-up to right field. The hit scored Castro, who had doubled after a nine-pitch at-bat against Weaver.
That put the Nats ahead 2-1, and they tacked on runs when Gomes singled to drive in Stevenson, and Jordy Mercer followed with a single to put runners at first and second with no one out.
Fedde capped his day with a perfect sacrifice bunt that moved both runners into scoring position, and Juan Soto gave the Nats a three-run cushion with a sacrifice fly to score Gomes.
“With Fedde the biggest thing that works with him is when he gets his confidence going,” said Gomes. “You can tell he’s not trying to nibble, not wasting pitches, so that was really fun to see. Especially — whenever you see kind of Fedde striking out a lot of guys, I think that’s from his confidence within his first two to three pitches, when he’s getting guys guessing.”
Weaver came into the game with a 2.13 ERA after throwing seven shutout innings against Cincinnati, but the Nationals knocked him around for nine hits and four runs in just four innings.
The Washington bullpen had little trouble holding down the D-backs in the late innings, with Eduardo Escobar’s sixth-inning home run off Sam Clay the only real hiccup. Kyle Finnegan and Tanner Rainer each contributed a scoreless inning before Wander Suero came in to pitch the ninth.
Suero was in obvious discomfort, grabbing his side after walking Escobar.
“He grabbed his side. He’s getting an MRI right now and we’ll see what it is,” said Martinez. “I didn’t want to take any chances. We just got him out of the game.”
Kyle McGowin retired the next three batters in a non-save situation.