“It would be nice to come up in those late innings,” Davey Martinez said before the finale of the Washington Nationals’ three-game set with the Cleveland Guardians this weekend, “and [have] somebody pop a home run with guys on base, but we got to continue to do the little things and try to keep the game as close as possible and try to get one more than the other guys.”
His club’s struggles with runners in scoring position have been an obvious issue early this season, but the sixth-year skipper said in his pregame press conference he does not want his young roster under any more pressure trying to make something happen at the plate.
“It seems like the more you talk about it, especially with young players, the more it gets in their head,” Martinez told reporters, “so we try not to talk about it. We try to just tell them, ‘Hey, just be yourself. If you have to think about it as being nobody is on base, just go to hit and stay in the middle of the field.’ We always talk about in the middle of the field, regardless of what — if they’re playing the infield in, balls in the middle of the field are base hits. Playing the infield back, a ground ball with less than two outs scores a run. Right? So for the most part we try to keep it as simple as possible and try to stay in the middle of the field. Fly ball to center field, is a sacrifice fly. So just try to keep it simple and kind of just tell them, ‘Hey, this is what you do, this is what you’ve always been doing, don’t try to do too much.’”
Late in the afternoon on Sunday, with the Nationals trailing 6-3 in the seventh, Luis García stepped to the plate with a runner on and two out and hit a 2-2 slider up high inside from left-handed reliever Tim Herrin 430 feet to right for a two-run blast, 6-5, then in the home-half of the eighth, Stone Garrett, getting a start in left for the first time since April 9th, got on base with a leadoff single, moved up on a CJ Abrams’ walk, took third on a sac bunt by Victor Robles, and scored on ... you guessed it, a sac fly to center field by Lane Thomas to tie things up at 6-6.
Garrett, who finished the day 2 for 4 at the plate, and is now 9 for 16 (.563 AVG) on the year, beat the throw in from center, upon review. He was called out at first, but Martinez decided to challenge the play and the call was reversed, and the game was tied.
“I’m on the field at that point just to see,” Martinez said after the game. “It was a close play, but for me there was no doubt I wasn’t going to challenge the whole play, it was that close. But we had to take a chance. I thought [Third Base coach] Gary [DiSarcina] did a great job sending him.
“Stone had a great jump, ran hard, and it was bang-bang. They got the call right.”
“When I got to third, [DiSarcina] told me we’re going to challenge every single one of those outfielders, so I knew we were going,” Garrett said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“He didn’t need to reassure me when the ball went in the air. It was just see him catch it, and go.”
Dom Smith walked after the sac fly to extend the inning, and Joey Meneses stepped up in the next at-bat, and shot an RBI single to right to put the home team ahead, 7-6.
It wasn’t the cleanest game they’ve played in a series of close ones in recent days, but this time the Nats came out on top, winning the second of six one-run games on the year, and their 5th of 16 games played overall.
“We were just more aggressive,” the manager said when asked what was different for Nats’ hitters this time. “We stayed aggressive the whole days. We jumped on some fastballs.
“And I think that’s a key for our lineup, to continue to look for fastballs and adjust to the breaking balls.”
Patrick Corbin got the start for the Nationals in the finale, going six innings in which he gave up five hits and four runs, two earned, striking out four without walking anyone in a 96-pitch outing. Martinez pointed to his starter’s outing as one of the keys to the win.
“I’m very proud of Corbin, battling,” Martinez said.
“We missed some plays that we should have had. He fought through it, he kept us in the ballgame, those guys in the bullpen come in, they keep it close. Luis with a big home run against the lefty, and then we were able to — Meneses with a big hit, so they played well.”
“They play with a lot of heart,” the manager added. “And they don’t give up. And I think we proved that today, just by continuing to do what we need to do as far as working at-bats, playing good defense, and getting the pitching that we know we can do, which is throwing strikes, and hey we put one more up than the other guys, which was awesome.”