Coming off a split of their four-game set with the New York Mets in Washington, D.C., Davey Martinez’s Nationals were looking to keep the momentum going, with an 8-6 record in May, and wins in two of four series (with a loss and split in the other two). But the club dropped a third straight game in Miami on Thursday afternoon, and they fell to 8-9 on the month, and to 18-26 overall this season.
The first two losses to the Marlins came in one-run games (in which the Fish are now 15-1 on the season), and the finale was a one-run game in the eighth, when an error (E:5) led to one run, a half-inning after the Nationals had rallied for two runs to get close at 4-3, only to have Keibert Ruiz chase a first-pitch changeup from Huascar Brazoban out of the zone, and send a grounder to second which started an inning-ending double play.
“Tough game,” Martinez said after the 5-3 loss in loanDepot Park.
“We tried to make a comeback there [in the eighth], just couldn’t finish it. We just didn’t hit enough this series. I thought we pitched pretty good. Just the bats got cold on us. So we got to come back and start swinging the bats, get the ball in the strike zone. We had one inning there where I thought things were gonna snap out of it and then we hit into a double play. So tough series ... and we just got to come back tomorrow and be ready to play.”
Martinez was asked if the Marlins are a particularly tough matchup for the Nats, but he said his club hurt themselves in the series as well.
“We got to get the ball in the zone,” he said.
“When we do that, we hit the ball really well. We start chasing and that’s when the bats go sideways on us, so we got to get the ball in the zone, if we do that, we’re going to be okay.”
Ruiz’s double play grounder, on a first-pitch changeup outside, was a perfect example for the sixth-year skipper (and at least one reporter), of what does happen when you chase a pitch out of the zone.
2-on, 1-out, down 1 run in the 8th … can’t reach for a first-pitch changeup off the plate and ground into a 4-6-3 DP. pic.twitter.com/QSdXZioJ3N— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) May 18, 2023
“It’s got to be in the zone, especially in that situation,” Martinez said. “We got the guy on the ropes there, and you got to get the ball in the zone.”
The Good News?:
Going into the series finale with the Marlins, Jeimer Candelario had reached base safely in 9 of 12 plate appearances, “... going 8 for-11 (.727) with two doubles, a triple, one RBI, one walk and three runs scored [in the previous] three games ... [and] at least one extra-base hit in all three games,” as the Nationals highlighted in their pregame notes.
In the third of three in Miami, the 29-year-old slugger hit his first home run in 18 games, on a 94.9 MPH, 3-1 fastball from Marlins’ rookie Eury Perez, just a baseball’s width off dead center of the zone. Candelario went 2 for 4 in the 5-3 loss, to finish the series 8 for 11 at the plate.
“Making good contact,” Candelario told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, after the third straight loss to the Fish, “... trying to have good ABs, trying to help my team win.
“That’s all I want,” he added. “I want to be able to be in a good position to help my team win and I’m gonna keep working really hard to keep doing what I’m doing.”
CANDY CRUSHed. pic.twitter.com/Insen3D5vw— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 18, 2023
“Candy, once again, Candy’s swinging the bat really well for us,” Martinez said. “He was able to get in a good count and hit a home run, and that’s the key. When you get some of these guys that throw in the mid-90s like that, got a good changeup, good curveball, the key is to get in the zone, get on the fastball, and be ready for it.”
Candelario is now 12 for 27 in his last eight games. “He slowed his feet down a lot,” Martinez said.
“He’s getting ready early, getting back, and putting himself in a good position to hit every pitch, and again, not chasing. He’s getting the ball in the zone, when he does that he can hit.”
It was, obviously, a disappointing trip to Miami, but the Nationals are back in Washington, D.C. now, ready for a six-game homestand against Detroit and San Diego.
“Once again, we made a crucial error there late,” the sixth-year skipper said. “We could’ve kept the game closer, within a run. Those little things seem to bite us a little bit, so just got to play good, clean baseball. We always talk about 27 outs, moving the baseball, when we move the baseball we’re really good. Taking our walks.
“We haven’t taken our walks that much, you know, and we got to start getting back to taking our walks and getting on base for the next guy.”
The Less Good News?:
CJ Abrams went 6 for 16 (.375/.375/.813) with two doubles and a home run in the four-game series with the New York Mets at home in D.C., but going into the third of three in Miami, he was 0 for 7 with six Ks, and he went 0 for 4 with two Ks in the finale.
“Chase. Chase. Chase,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said of his shortstop’s struggles at the plate against the Fish.
“When he got the balls that he could hit, just had a little bit of an upswing,” the skipper said.
“And that’s caused by just being young and having some success hitting some home runs, we got to get him back above the baseball, and through the baseball.”