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Is the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen that bad, or are the Washington Nationals learning to play clutch baseball?

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Riley Adams keys early surge, late insurance rally

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Washington Nationals
With three hits and six RBIs in a 12-6 win over Toronto, Tuesday night could have been a breakout performance from catcher Riley Adams against his former team.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals won a ballgame Tuesday night after nearly blowing an 8-1 lead, ultimately answering a three-run Toronto eighth with a four-run inning of their own, to pull away, 12-6.

Both teams’ bullpens had their squeamish moments, but in the end it was one of the new, young bats in the Nats’ order putting together some clutch hitting to build the lead and then tack on after some of the Blue Jays’ big hitters had a chance to work.

Nationals catcher Riley Adams had what might have been a breakout game against the team that traded him away for closer Brad Hand.

With a single, double, his second career home run as a National, and three RBIs, Adams elevated his season slash line from .149/.231/.255 to .196/.268/.373 (.304/.385/.609 with Washington in 11 games).

“There’s definitely a little more excitement there, it’s fun to see all the familiar faces, you know,” Adams said in a postgame zoom call with reporters.

“I spent 4-5 years with that organization and built a lot of great relationships with those guys.”

Manager Davey Martinez recognized the opportunity to get a motivated Adams in the lineup against his former team.

“Yesterday, when I was making the lineup out, I used that a little bit as a motivation for him as well,” Martinez said about the deal that brought Adams to Washington.

“The matchup for me was the fact that the guy that was starting today (Alek Manoah) throws some sinkers, throws changeups, sliders down, I thought it was a good matchup for him.”

That produced a single that would start the Nats’ sixth-run third against Manoah, and Adams’ fourth-inning homer against reliever Trent Thornton gave the Nationals their biggest lead at 8-1.

“My hitting approach is to all fields, take what the pitcher gives me and not try to do too much with it,” Adams said. “I’ve been working a lot recently about simplifying everything and giving myself as much time to see the ball.”

Adams’ eighth-inning double, however, was the clutch hit the Nats often needed and never got in a seven-game losing streak that preceded Tuesday’s win.

The Nationals’ bullpen nearly blew a seven-run lead in the eighth. Washington’s Mason Thompson could not retire a batter in the inning, allowing a single and two walks to load the bases.

Kyle Finnegan did his best to limit the damage, allowing an RBI groundout and what could have been an inning-ending double play ball that second baseman Luis Garcia waited too long on for an error that allowed a run to score.

”I’m going to talk to Luis tomorrow,” Martinez said after the game. “He’s got to come get that ball. That’s a double play for me 10 out of 10 times.”

Finnegan gave up two more RBI hits before getting the final out of the eighth, but the lead had shrunk to 8-6.

“It’s going to be a learning process and we’re going to have some bumps and bruises along the way,” said Martinez.

Juan Soto led off eighth with a double against Toronto reliever Tayler Saucedo, who then walked the bases loaded with one out.

Ryan Zimmerman then greeted Rafael Dolis with his 68th career sacrifice fly, and first of the season, before Adams hit a Dolis’ sinker for his third hit of the day to the right field wall to make it 12-6.

”My approach is staying up the middle as much as I can, and I was a little out in front, but I do have some long levers, I’m a bigger person in general, so I was able to get the barrel to it, just happy to put a good swing on it and it was a pretty good swing obviously.”

So still seeking their first back-to-back wins since the July 30 deals that created the current roster, the Nationals and Adams hope Tuesday’s clutch performance will start something.

“You always try to build on things like that and carry things over,” Adams said. “I’m still working on my swing. There’s still plenty of things I’m trying to work on and get to, and so, it’s a constant process every single day, trying to get better, and you know, I feel like if I can make some strides daily, just a little bit better every day, then I’ll be in a very good place.”