In addition to claiming status as the top last-place team in the National League, the Washington Nationals offered fans a glimpse into the future as they pulled out a second straight four-game weekend series win in Cincinnati.
Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Reds offered a glimpse of a few of the players the Nats might want to patiently hold on to as they reboot around Juan Soto, including shortstop Luis García and catcher Kiebert Ruiz.
Both were in on key plays as the Nats stranded the tying and go-ahead runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
García is clearly the shortstop of the Nationals’ present and future, with Alcides Escobar nursing a hamstring injury and Dee Strange-Gordon on the paternity list after the birth of his son, Dash.
General manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies about a week before García was recalled Tuesday, “...once he gets here, he’s playing every day at shortstop and that’s what we’ve told him, and that’s what he’s preparing for.”
García’s bat is already welcome in the lineup. In four games against the Reds, he went 6-for-15 with 5 RBIs, including a 3-hit, 4-RBI performance in Saturday’s 10-8 victory.
But as manager Davey Martinez told reporters just before García committed the first of two errors on the season in his 2022 debut Wednesday, the team will have to be patient with the 22-year-old shortstop’s defense.
“The biggest thing for me is his footwork, and using his legs to throw the baseball,’ Martinez said. “Finding that good arm slot and using his legs. That’s something that we’ve got to stay on him about.
“Sometimes he plays the game a different way, he’s got all this energy, but he’s got to make sure he’s consistent with what he does.”
Could Martinez have been foretelling the penultimate play of Sunday’s game, when García might have helped wrap up the game one batter earlier?
With two out and Albert Almora, Jr. on first after a leadoff walk from Steve Cishek, Cincy leadoff man Nick Senzel legged out a hit after grounding a 3-2 pitch to García, deep in the hole at short.
Playing on the outfield grass, García ranged to his left and took a couple hops before firing across to Josh Bell at first, less than a half-step behind Senzel, a call upheld on replay review.
A quicker set and throw from García might have given the Reds another chance, but Ruiz stepped up two pitches into Brandon Drury’s at-bat to make a play that clinched the game and series.
After setting up low and outside for Cishek, who delivered a four-seam fastball on target, Ruiz fired to Bell behind Senzel, leaning too far toward second on his two-out lead.
Bell’s lunging tag was obscured by dust from the diving Senzel’s hand, but first-base umpire Andy Fletcher called Senzel out, another call upheld after extensive review.
Ruiz was swinging the bat well enough a couple weeks back for Martinez to bump his catcher up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
However, he’s gone hitless in 14 at-bats since compiling five hits in four games from May 24-30, although he did draw three walks and stole a base against Cincinnati.
The Reds also exposed some of Ruiz’s defensive shortcomings, stealing five bases against him in the four-game set, including three on Sunday.
But in making the key play, Ruiz showed why the Nationals value him as a potential All-Star catcher.
“We work on that stuff, and perfect timing,” Martinez told reporters Sunday as the team prepared to depart for Miami.
“It was a great play. Good heads-up play by Kiebert and Josh Bell.”