On a pace to win about two home games a month, even when the Washington Nationals aren’t playing their worst baseball for their own paying customers, they still leave many us wondering what we saw.
A 13-6 victory the Houston Astros to break a two-game skid and improve to 5-14 at home could be cause for celebration. But it’s also cause to pause and wonder how good the 11-23 Nats might actually be if they didn’t regularly give up bases and outs.
The Nats handed Erick Fedde a lead in the first inning and grew it to 7-2 heading into the fifth. Yet the right-hander could not get one out in the most crucial inning for a starting pitcher.
After giving up a solo homer to Jose Siri, Fedde was lifted after 83 pitches with a 7-3 lead, ineligible for his third win of the season, with nothing but a higher ERA to show for it.
Josh Rogers was awarded the win after finishing the inning Fedde couldn’t, allowing only a walk to Alex Bregman.
It seemed manager Davey Martinez and his staff had gotten through to the team about fundamentals after Dee Strange-Gordon and a hot bottom of the order set the Nats up to break open a 3-2 lead against Cristian Javier in the fourth inning.
Strange-Gordon got it started by flashing out an infield hit right to first baseman Yuli Gurriel behind the bag.
“He watches everything,” Martinez told reporters in pregame remarks about his starting shortstop. “When he gets an opportunity to play, he wants to make sure that, one, he’s in the right position, two, that he can do something to help us win every day.”
Then Victor Robles got one of his two hits for the game on what might have been his best bunt attempt of the season, a slow roller to shifted second baseman Niko Goodrum.
The speedy Robles beat the throw handily to put the fastest Nats on first and second with nobody out.
César Hernández, in his tenth big league season, had a dozen career sacrifice bunts before Saturday. But he took advantage of a green light from Martinez to lay one down in a textbook situation. The Nats’ second baseman pushed the ball to Bregman on the left side to earn his first sac bunt since 2020 and put runners on second and third with one out for Juan Soto.
Soto could have walked on four pitches, but he waved at a 1-0 change-up to make things interesting and took his base after five.
After Josh Bell popped out came Nelson Cruz, whose season average was not yet up to .200 before his 3-for-4 night.
The 17-year veteran slugger has a career .333 average and a 1.014 OPS with the bases loaded, and just as surely as Soto walked with a base open, Cruz took a 3-0 count before swinging at three straight outside fastballs. He banged the last one off the base of the out-of-town scoreboard in right field to clear the bases.
“This guy’s very intuitive with what’s going on,” Martinez said. “He’s watching pitches, he’s looking on the iPad, even other players’ at-bats, our players at-bats, and kind of going over what he sees.”
The Nats not only avoided any freakish out sequences like the ones that have dogged them, they ran the bases smartly, especially in the sixth inning to stretch a 9-4 lead.
Josh Bell kept up his team leading .426 OBP with a single off lefty Blake Taylor, then took second on Cruz’s second hit of the game.
That put a couple Nats who’ve had adventures on the bases this season on first and second, and each advanced on what might as well have been a sac bunt by Yadiel Hernández, a roller to Taylor that got the job done.
A passed ball during a five-pitch walk to Keibert Ruiz scored Bell to make it 10-4 and put Cruz on third. Then Maikel Franco brought Cruz home to make it 11-4 with his second extra-base hit of the game, a double to left.
But Robles and Yadiel Hernández seemed to forget what they learned a few weeks back about playing to the end of a lopsided game, this time with a 13-4 lead in the seventh.
With two outs, Gurriel hit a ground ball to left-center field, where Robles ambled over and fielded it like a routine single, then looked surprised to see Gurriel speeding into second base.
Robles cleanly fielded the next ball, a fly off the bat of Aledmys Diaz to render his mistake irrelevant, but he heard about if from Martinez and a few others in the Nationals’ dugout between innings.
The next inning in the field, Yadiel Hernández set Tanner Rainey up for a couple of unearned runs when he couldn’t squeeze Goodrum’s fly ball near the left field wall, and it bounced off his glove for a two-base error.
With one out and Goodrum still at second, Hernández took a curious route on Siri’s ground shot down the left field line, fielding it at the fence after it bounded around the corner like a pinball.
Goodrum scored, and Siri wound up at third and came home on Chas McCormick’s ground out, completing the scoring in another game that was satisfying enough, but still disappointing.