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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats drop 4th straight with 6-4 loss to Guardians

News, notes, and quotes from last night’s 6-4 loss to the Guardians in Nationals Park...

FRONT PAGE - Kuhl Back Home Again:

Chad Kuhl gave up three of the four runs he allowed in his 2023 debut in his first inning on the mound for the Nationals, and the fourth in the second, before he strung together three scoreless frames in a five-inning outing against Tampa Bay in the nation’s capital.

“After the first couple innings in his last outing he settled down and threw the ball really well,” manager Davey Martinez said before Kuhl returned to Colorado’s Coors Field, where he pitched for the Rockies in 2022.

“I’m expecting him to go out there and do the same thing today. Just get off to a good start.

“He’s pitched here before, he understands this ballpark. So for the most part, it’s attack the strike zone, keep the ball down, and utilize all his pitches.”

Kuhl held the Rockies to one run through three innings in start No. 2, but ended up giving up solo homers in the fourth and fifth innings and he left two runners on in the sixth, both of whom scored once he was replaced on the mound.

“I thought Kuhl threw the ball okay,” his manager said after start No. 2 for the 30-year-old, seven-year veteran who signed a free agent deal with the Nats this winter.

“He walked some guys. Certain situations where we needed to make a pitch — like I said, here, sometimes those breaking balls don’t break like you want them to and end up being in the zone.”

Back home in D.C. on Saturday, Kuhl didn’t have to worry about the mile-high air, though he did have to deal with a 1-hour, 40-minute rain delay at the start before taking on Cleveland’s Guardians in the second of three in Nationals Park.

“The thing with him is working ahead,” Martinez said before the second game of the three-game series.

“There’s a big difference when he’s ahead than when he’s behind. So we got to get him to understand to work ahead, use your defense, we’ve been playing really well, our defense ... and see what he does, but his stuff is really good.”

Kuhl worked around a leadoff walk in a scoreless first, and came out for the second with a 3-0 lead, but Andrés Giménez singled with one out, and scored with two out on Myles Straw’s ground ball through the middle of the infield, 3-1 Nationals after one and a half.

Back-to-back, one-out walks in the top of the fourth set the Guardians up with two runners (Josh Bell & Andrés Giménez), both of whom came around to score, 3-3. Kuhl was up to 75 pitches after a 19-pitch frame.

Cleveland Guardians v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Given a 4-3 lead to work with after four, Kuhl promptly gave up a one-out triple by Amed Rosario, a two-run home run by José Ramírez, and a two-out double by Josh Bell before he was lifted from the outing with the score 5-4 in the Guardians’ favor.

Chad Kuhl’s Line: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR, 96 P, 52 S, 6/5 GO/FO.

“He starts speeding up,” Martinez said after a 6-4 loss to the Guardians, in assessing what went wrong for Kuhl, and if he was fading, stuff-wise, when he struggled in the fifth as he got up to 90+ pitches.

“He gets on the mound and wants to go. Sometimes you just got to back off a little bit. I know that’s who he is, and he’s done — but the pitch clock is going to speed you up enough, just kind of gather yourself a little bit, and that’s something that I’ve noticed. His stuff was still good. When I took him out he was still throwing 93, but he just starts rushing, starts rushing. Something that [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey and I are going to talk to him about in the next couple days is that, ‘Hey, when you get like that, slow things down, gather yourself a little bit, and then just try to get to the next pitch.’”

POINTS!!!: Alex Call reached on a throwing error, and took third aggressively on a single to right by Dominic Smith, before scoring on a one-out (Smith got picked off first) single Joey Meneses shot through the left side, by a diving José Ramírez at third for the Guardians, 1-0 Nationals in the bottom of the first.

Meneses scored for a 2-0 Nationals’ lead on Jeimer Candelario’s RBI double to right field off Zach Plesac, then Candelario moved up on Luis García’s groundout, before scoring to make it 3-0 on Keibert Ruiz’s two-out RBI single.

Plesac threw 32 pitches in the first, but was up to just 49 after three, as he settled in and set seven in a row down after the third run scored in the bottom of the opening inning.

Luis García singled off Plesac to start the bottom of the fourth, and scored when a double by Ruiz allowed him to speed all the way around the bases, 4-3 after four.

Given a 5-4 lead to work with, Plesac worked around a two-out hit by Joey Meneses for a scoreless bottom of the fifth.

BULLPEN ACTION:

Erasmo Ramírez finished Cleveland off in the fifth, and returned to the mound in the sixth with a scoreless frame.

Eli Morgan replaced Guardians’ starter Zach Plesac in the bottom of the sixth, stranding two runners after Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams singled with two out.

Anthony Banda gave up leadoff and one-out hits before he was replaced on the mound by Thaddeus Ward, who got out No. 2 on a play at home plate, and No. 3 on a fly to left field.

García and Ruiz hit back-to-back, one-out singles off Guardians’ righty James Karinchak in the home-half of the eighth, but Lane Thomas K’d looking for out No. 2, and CJ Abrams K’d swinging to end the threat, still 5-4 Cleveland.

“We took fastballs,” Martinez said of the back-to-back Ks from Abrams and Thomas when he spoke to reporters after the game. “We’ve got to be ready to hit. We talk about that all the time, 0-0, be ready to hit the first-pitch fastball. The guy has a good breaking ball, we know that, but you’ve got to hit the fastball. He’s got a good fastball. He threw one to Lane right there that he should’ve jumped on, and then [Abrams] took another one, and he got ahead, and [Abrams] chased a breaking ball. We’ve got to hit the fastball.”

Ward gave up a run in his second inning of work in the ninth with Josh Bell driving in a one-out walk, 6-4 Guardians.

BACK PAGE - Let Stone Play!?:

“We liked his skill-set,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after signing free agent Stone Garrett, who debuted in the big leagues as a 26-year-old in 2022, to a major league deal this past winter.

“[Director, Player Development] De Jon [Watson] loved the make-up,” Rizzo continued, “and we just think that he brings a — he’s an option-able player that’s going to compete for at-bats at the big league level. We see a guy that has some power, that’s kind of refining his game, but we will — we’re going to allot him some time to improve his craft either at the big league level or at the minor league level.”

Garrett didn’t make the Opening Day roster, but he was up with the club early when Corey Dickerson went on the IL earlier this month.

“He did well this spring. Gives us another right-handed bat as well, so that’s kind of nice,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said once Garrett joined the team.

Given a small sample of what the Nationals saw when they signed Garrett this winter, there is a contingent of fans on social media wondering why the now-27-year-old, 6’2’’, 224-pound power hitter is not in the lineup on a regular basis for the power-starved ballclub (who went into last night’s game with an NL-low six home runs on the season - Tampa Bay led the major leagues in HRs with 35 before the start of play on Saturday).

MLB: APR 05 Rays at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In three games this season, Garrett is 7 for 12 with two doubles, a homer, 5 RBIs, two walks, and three Ks in 14 plate appearances, with four of the hits, both doubles, and the home run coming in a 4 for 5 game in Coors Field on the recently-competed road trip.

Looking at his lineup for last night’s game, with right-hander Zach Plesac on the mound for the visiting Guardians, Martinez penciled in Alex Call (in LF), Victor Robles (in CF), and Lane Thomas (in RF) around his outfield, with Garrett once again on the bench.

“Yeah, that’s a matchup [thing], and those other guys are playing well,” Martinez said before the game. “They really are.”

“Lane [Thomas]... and Alex Call is getting some big hits for us, getting on base for us. It’s tough to take him out right now. I’ve talked to [Garrett] about just hang in there,” he said.

“We haven’t faced any lefties neither, in a while, so just be ready when you’re called upon.”

Martinez, who knows of what he speaks from his own playing days, acknowledged it’s hard to make the transition from playing every day in the minors to coming off the bench, but it is something he thinks Garrett can do well with some help.

“It’s tough when you’ve never experienced coming off the bench, playing off the bench,” he said. “You’ve got to keep yourself going. Our hitting guys do a lot of stuff on velo machines, and set up the slider machine, and we do a lot of work to keep him kind of engaged and kind of game-ready. And man, he works — as you can tell by his physique — he works really hard on every aspect of his game, so it’s kind of nice.

“I watched him during practice, he takes fly balls in right, center, left, every day, so he works hard. ... If we were facing a lefty here I would try to get him in somehow, and the fact that like I said, Alex and Lane and even Victor is playing well, they’re going to play right now.”

Friday’s 0-ffense:

Victor Robles struck out with the bases loaded in the second inning of the Nats’ 4-3 loss on Friday night, but Luis García homered in the fourth, 1-0, and Alex Call came through with a two-out, two-run hit later in the home half of the frame, for a 3-0 lead.

Call’s hit was 1 of 2 for the Nationals with runners in scoring position on the night.

Davey Martinez’s club went 2 for 11 with RISP overall, with 11 left on base in their sixth loss in the first 10 games.

“We got to do a better job of hitting with runners in scoring position. We really do. It’s just not happening,” Martinez said in his post game presser in Nationals Park.

“We could blow the game open early, if we get some runs across the board. So we just got to get better at that. We got to get better at that. Our at-bats have been good. We’re taking our walks. Alex Call with a big two-out couple RBIs there, but we got to get better at it.”

“We got to continue to work on driving those runs in with less than two outs,” he added at another point, “… because that’s big. Especially in these close games. Whether it’s 2-0, 3-0, next thing you know, we get a big hit right there, now it’s 5-0, and if they come back, we got wiggle-room, it’s 5-3 and we still got the lead.”

Before Saturday’s game, Martinez said the Nationals needed to put teams away when they had them on the proverbial ropes.

“We attack, we attack, we attack, but the big thing for me is when we have opportunities to put teams away early we’ve got to capitalize on that,” he explained.

Cleveland Guardians v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“We can’t let these teams — because these teams are good — but we can’t let them linger around. We’ve got to put them away early, and then it becomes a different game, right?”

Scoring early and then continuing to build on a lead changes the complexion of the game, Martinez said, and could potentially help the team’s bats get going.

“If you put these guys away early, now you’re talking about getting in their bullpen with their secondary bullpen, and the hits will come. But if we keep letting these guys linger, and we’re facing the top guys coming out of the bullpen every time, it does get a little tougher,” Martinez said.

His club jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first in the second of three with the Guardians in D.C., but the visiting team scored one in the second, and another in the fourth, 3-2, and a third run scored later in the inning, 3-3. The home team took a 4-3 lead with a run in their half of the fourth, but the visitors scored two in the top of the fifth to go up 5-4 in a 6-4 win in which the Nationals went 3 for 10 w/ RISP and seven left on base.

Martinez’s assessment of where the club stands after a fourth consecutive loss?

“The fact that we’re not tacking on runs, you know?” Martinez said.

“We have one or two good innings, and then we just don’t tack on runs. We’ve got to get better at that. The walks. The walks on the other end are hurting us right now. Something that early on we’ve been really good at, attacking the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters, letting them put the ball in play. Now we’re starting to fall behind, we’re walking guys, and giving them too many free bases. Especially with a team that’s so athletic. You give them free bases and they’re going to run, and we saw that in these first couple games where they’re getting on base and they’re going to run, but specifically because those guys that can run are on there, and we’ve got to attack those and we’ve got to try to make them hit their way on, and we’re just, we’re falling behind and we’re not getting the outs we should be getting.”