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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats rally in 7th, blow lead in 9th in 8-6 loss to Padres...

Notes and quotes from the series finale in Nationals Park...

Irvin Rides Or Just Starts Again:

In spite of the fact he struggled at points in each of his last two starts, with strong stretches and bad ones, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said Jake Irvin would continue to start for Washington again, even after veteran starter Chad Kuhl came off the IL recently.

“We definitely want to give Jake a longer look,” the sixth-year skipper explained.

“To me, Jake has a lot of upside, and I think he’s only scratching the surface right now, but his stuff is good. His stuff is real good.”

There was work to do after he gave up five hits, four walks, and six runs, four earned, in just 2 23 IP last time out before he faced San Diego’s Padres in the series finale in Nationals Park.

“We’ll get him back, honed in, I know [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, we saw some videos, and we’re going to talk to him about a couple of things and then get him back out there.”

What has he seen from Irvin so far that has him convinced about the starter’s upside?

“I like the fact — the biggest thing from the first few outings, barring yesterday — the ability to throw strikes with all of his pitches. His changeup is good. He’s got two-seam and four-seam fastball, his curveball is really, really good. I mean, he’s got an elite curveball. So, the fact that he was landing them for strikes is definitely a plus.”

Going into yesterday’s start, Martinez said he wanted to the 26-year-old pitcher pound the strike zone.

“It’s about the same thing with Jake, about pounding the strike zone,” he said, “... getting ahead of hitters. Strike one. Strike one is the key for him. His stuff is really good, but he’s got to be in the strike zone. So, I tell him, everything you do, every five days, it’s a learning experience for you, so let’s try to learn from it and get better. So today is no different, go out there today, get an opportunity to get ahead of hitters and get to the next pitch.”

Irvin worked around a two-out walk to Juan Soto, striking out two Padres in an 18-pitch top of the first, but he gave up a two-out single in the second, and then left a 1-1 fastball up for Trent Grisham, who hit a 376-foot, two-run shot to left field to put the visitors up 2-1 on the Nationals, who’d jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the home-half of the first.

Back-to-back walks (to Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Jake Cronenworth) and a throwing error on a pick attempt at second, set Soto up with two men in scoring position in the Padres’ third. A third walk put Soto on, and loaded the bases, and with Irvin up to 55 pitches total, with no one out, Andrés Machado got up in the bullpen. Irvin fell behind Xander Bogaerts, 3-0, got a called strike, popped Bogaerts up over the infield, and a grounder to first by Matt Carpenter in the next at-bat started an inning-ending 3-6-3 DP.

Irvin worked around a hit batter in the fourth, but the 15-pitch frame left him at 76 total in four innings, and his manager decided that was enough...

Jake Irvin’s Line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 76 P, 37 S, 3/2 GO/FO.

“Our defense saved him,” Martinez said after what ended up an 8-6 loss. “We turned a big double play for him, bases loaded, but four innings, 76 pitches, we got to get him in the strike zone. He’s got to be more consistent throwing strikes. Guys got a bat for a reason, but let your defense play, as he did, we turned a double play for him, but the walks are going to get you, so we got to get him back in the strike zone.”


• Who’s on first? Lane Thomas hit a line drive right at Padres’ third baseman Ha-Seong Kim in the first at-bat of the bottom of the first inning, and the infielder dove for it, but didn’t catch it, trapping it, but failing to keep it in his glove, so he popped up and threw it to first, where Jake Cronenworth, thinking Kim caught it, was off the bag standing a few feet from the base so the throw went right by the bag and Thomas sped around to second. One out later, Joey Meneses drove him in with an RBI single and the Nationals were up 1-0 after one.

The hit, as it was ruled, for Thomas extended his on-base streak to a career-high, 21-straight games.

• With the Padres up 2-1 in the fourth, Dominic Smith doubled with two down, and back-to-back walks to Alex Call and Riley Adams loaded the bases, but Padres’ lefty Blake Snell got CJ Abrams to ground out to second to end the threat.

• In the top of the fifth, Andrés Machado gave up a leadoff single by Tatis, a one-out walk to Soto, and after a balk moved both runners into scoring position, an RBI hit by Bogaerts, 3-1, and 5-1 on a two-out, two-run double by Rougned Odor.

• The wheels fell off for the Padres in the bottom of the seventh. Tim Hill started the inning for the visiting team, but gave up back-to-back singles by Luis García and Meneses and an RBI double by Jeimer Candelario before he was replaced on the mound, 5-2 SD.

Nick Martinez took over, but couldn’t stop the rallying Nats. Corey Dickerson singled to get Meneses in, 5-3, Dominic Smith drove Candelario in, 5-4, and a throwing error on a perfect bunt by Alex Call allowed another run to score, 5-5, before Keibert Ruiz put the home team ahead with the sixth single and seventh hit of the inning, 6-5 Nationals.

With runners on first and third and no one out, CJ Abrams popped up, Lane Thomas popped out to short, and Call was thrown out trying to score from third on a passed ball, as Padres’ catcher Brett Sullivan recovered the ball and dove at the runner, brushing the bottom of Call’s cleat with his glove for out No. 3. The initial call held up on review...

“Close. It was close,” Martinez said after the game. “He barely touched [Call] on the foot, but at that point in time you just got to try to challenge it, but it was close. He did a heck of a job. He had a good break. If [Sullivan] flips the ball to the pitcher, he might be safe right there. The catcher did a nice job of just grabbing the ball actually with his glove too, which is tough to do, and diving to tag him out.”

• Kyle Finnegan got the eighth, and worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless frame, then Hunter Harvey took the mound in the ninth and gave up back-to-back singles by the first two batters he faced, Cronenworth and Soto, and two outs later Odor hit a 98 MPH 1-0 fastball out to right field for a go-ahead, three-run home run, 8-6 Padres.

BACK PAGE - Lane Train:

“He sprays the ball around,” Davey Martinez told reporters, once the Nationals brought Lane Thomas up for the first time back in 2021, a few weeks after the club acquired the outfielder in a trade deadline deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Hits the ball to right-center, left-center, moves the baseball,” the Nats’ skipper continued.

“He can play left field, center field, right field, just a good all-around player. He’s got some speed, but we like the way he swings the bat. He was doing well in Triple-A, he came over he was doing well down there, so we’re going to give him an opportunity to play.”

In 238 games with the Nationals before yesterday’s game, Thomas had a .258/.324/.434 line with 48 doubles and 31 home runs in 954 plate appearances.

His manager was asked before the third of three with the San Diego Padres in D.C. what the scouting reports on Thomas said before he came over from the Cards in return for lefty Jon Lester.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Washington Nationals Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

“We saw Lane a lot in Spring Training,” Davey Martinez said, “... and he’s always had really good at-bats. This is in Spring Training. We didn’t see much of him throughout the season. But we thought he could swing the bat well, we thought he could play defense well, you know, we got him, we thought he’s going to play a lot, platoon a lot, and fortunately, or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, we needed somebody to go out there and play, and he took advantage of it, and he hasn’t looked back. He’s been playing well. He’s learned a lot. The biggest thing he said is he’s really learned how to play the game since he’s been here.”

As noted above, Thomas took a 20-game on-base streak into yesterday’s game.

Over those 20 games, the outfielder had a .341/.379/.634 line with three doubles, a triple, six homers, 14 RBIs, four walks, and 17 runs scored.

What’s he doing when it’s going right at the plate?

“For me it’s — we always tell him all the time, he’s a good fastball hitter. Stay on the fastball and everything else will slow down for you, so be ready to hit the fastball. When he’s going good, that’s what he does. It doesn’t matter where you throw the fastball, he’s on time he’s going to hit it, and he’s been great.”

Thomas hit 17 of his 31 home runs with the Nationals in 2022, but he went without one in the first month this season, before he hit his first on May 1st, and going into Thursday’s game he had seven on the month and year, in a 22-game stretch.

His manager said he wasn’t really surprised to see the power come alive for Thomas.

“You think about it, what he did last year [17 HRs], we know he can do that, and he gets over 500 plate appearances, who knows what he can do,” Martinez explained, “but like I said, the the biggest thing is he’s got to understand who he is, and I think he’s starting to realize that, that he’s a guy that needs to be on the fastball and be ready to hit the fastball.”

Dom Smith in D.C.:

Dominic Smith got off to a slow start at the plate this season, after signing a 1-year/$2M deal with the Nationals this winter, but going into Wednesday night’s game, the 27-year-old first baseman was on a nice run, with a .329 AVG, a .413 OBP, two doubles, a homer, 11 walks, 10 Ks, and 11 runs scored in the previous 23 games. He’d also, the Nats noted in their pregame notes, reached base safely in 27 of his previous 32 games, with a .382 OBP over that stretch.

So, is this the sort of production that the Nationals envisioned when they signed the now-former New York Mets’ prospect?

“I don’t ever put numbers on a guy because every season is different for players,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said before the second of three with the Padres in D.C. Wednesday afternoon.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“What I did expect for him is to be a professional. I heard he was such a good clubhouse guy, he respects his teammates. He’s been all that. The shocking thing about him is his defense. His defense has been unbelievable. I don’t think people talk about that enough. But, man, he’s done really well at first base for us. I mean, he saved us a lot of errors. He’s so good over there. He’s so good around the bag.

“The reason why we can do what we do [back pick] with [catcher] Keibert [Ruiz] is because [Smith is] so good at getting to the base and having those pickoffs.”

“And as far as hitting,” he added, “I want him to stay in the middle of the field. That’s what he’s been doing, and just putting the bat on the ball. I still believe that the home runs will come as we get closer to the summer, the balls start traveling a little bit better, but for right now he had his struggles earlier, and now he’s trying to stay in the middle of the field. He’s getting a good swing off almost every pitch. He’s still fouling balls off a little bit that he thinks he should be hitting, but his two-strike approach has been really good, he’s able to put the ball in play a lot. I think he’s doing great.”