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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats blow lead late, drop opener to Braves, 3-2

“You give good teams extra outs, they’re going to get you. And that’s what we did in the bottom of the eighth.” - Davey Martinez on loss to Braves in ATL.

Gray in Truist:

The four earned runs Josiah Gray allowed the last time out, before he faced Atlanta’s Braves in the series opener of this weekend’s three-game set in Truist Park on Friday, were the most he’d allowed in a start since he gave up five in his 2023 debut.

Gray held Philadelphia’s Phillies to one run on a solo home run through five innings, but he gave up a leadoff single, one-out, two-run home run, and a double before his manager went to the bullpen in the sixth inning of what ended up an 8-7 win, in which the starter received no decision.

“Looking at the outing as a whole, I was able to limit loud contact until the last four batters,” Gray told reporters after the game, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“I just wanted to keep the team in the game. They gave me a really big lead. And thankfully they did, cause this could’ve gotten ugly quick.”

Looking to bounce back from the rough-ish outing, Gray took the mound in Atlanta, GA last night with a 1-0 lead and put two on in bottom of the first inning, with back-to-back, two-out walks, then a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, before Gray struck Eddie Rosario out with an 0-2 curve in the dirt for out No. 3.

A leadoff walk to Ozzie Albies, two wild pitches, and a one-out RBI groundout by Orlando Arcia tied things up at 1-1, and Gray was up to 37 pitches after an 18-pitch second inning.

After a 1-2-3 third, Rosario singled with one out in the Braves’ half of the fourth inning, and Gray issued his fourth walk of the night to Marcell Ozuna, in a two-out matchup, before he struck Arcia out to end a 25-pitch frame at 77 total.

Gray was up to 96 after he’d stranded a leadoff single in a 19-pitch fifth... and that’s as far as he went.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 Ks, 96 P, 56 S, 4/3 GO/FO.

What stood out for his manager in Gray’s outing?

“The walks — a lot of walks,” he said. “But when he needed to get an out, he got some big outs for us. But we got to get him back — his direction’s off a little bit. So his next bullpen we’re gonna sit down and work on his direction, get his head going in the right direction, and get him back in that strike zone.”


• Lane Thomas singled on a fly to short center Michael Harris II dove for but couldn’t catch, stole second, took third on a throwing error by Braves’ catcher Sean Murphy on the play, then scored on a single to center field by Luis García, who sent a 3-2 slider low and away out toward Harris II for a 1-0 lead early in the series opener.

Braves’ starter AJ Smith-Shawver needed 18 pitches to get through the opening frame of his first MLB start (and second big league appearance), in what was just the 30th game as a pro for the 2021 7th Round pick who’s climbed Atlanta’s organizational ladder quickly, debuting at 20 years old, after putting up a 1.09 ERA in seven outings and 33 innings pitched, across three minor league levels this season.

• Smith-Shawver held the Nationals to a run on two hits and two walks in 5 13 IP, but he was lifted from the outing after 86 pitches, with Lane Thomas on second base, after Thomas got on via an error by Orlando Arcia ...

Collin McHugh took over with the potential go-ahead run at second and Joey Meneses at the plate, and Meneses lined a middle-middle, 2-1 cutter to left-center field for a 2-1 lead.

With the double, Meneses (who was 0 for 2 to start the game) extended his career-best 15-game on-base streak. Going into the game, the 31-year-old slugger was 21 for 58 (.362 AVG), “... with a .448 on-base percentage (9 BB, 7 SO) during this streak,” as the Nationals noted in their pregame notes for the first of three with the Braves, and he’d, “reached safely in 25 of his last 26 games,” with a .359/.426/.485 line, “eight doubles, one triple, one homer, 20 RBIs, 12 walks, and 15 runs scored during the stretch.”


Mason Thompson struck out the first two batters he faced, but Ozzie Albies reached first ahead of CJ Abrams’ throw on a two-out grounder, and took third on a two-out single off Marcell Ozuna’s bat, before he was stranded on a grounder back to the mound off Arcia’s.

Carl Edwards, Jr. stranded a two-out single in a 21-pitch seventh, with help from a diving CJ Abrams at short, who dove for a hard-hit grounder by Austin Riley and fired a strike to first.

Kyle Finnegan got the bottom of the eighth, and he took a Sean Murphy grounder off his plant foot for a leadoff single, then gave up a single to right by Eddie Rosario, on which a misplay by Lane Thomas allowed Rosario to take second as Murphy took third.

An Ozzie Albies pop to short right field got Finnegan out No. 1, but Dom Smith bobbled a ground ball from Marcell Ozuna so he had no play at home, 2-2, and 3-2 when CJ Abrams couldn’t collect a grounder up the middle by Orlando Arcia.

“He couldn’t get it out of his glove,” Martinez said of Smith bobbling the ball when he could have thrown home if he’d fielded it cleanly. “And he did the right thing. Instead of throwing it home, he took the out [at first]. CJ just played a bad bounce on his ball, but he rebounded back and got the next one, got an out there. So, I felt bad for Finnegan. He got a big popup, then a ground ball, which we could have possibly got the guy at home, we couldn’t do that, and then another error.”

Raisel Iglesias wrapped things up with a quick top of the ninth, 3-2 final. Six straight wins for the Braves...

BACK PAGE - Riley Adams, When He Plays...

Riley Adams has started just 12 games in the Nationals’ first 62 this season, while managing to hit when he does play, with a .286/.362/.548 line, three doubles, a triple, and two home runs in 48 plate appearances serving as backup to the No. 1 backstop in D.C., Keibert Ruiz.

Adams has hits in 7 of 12 and he’s reached base in 9 of 12, which, combined with good work behind the plate, has made it easier for Nats’ manager Davey Martinez to plug him in on the rare occasions he decides to give Ruiz a break.

“It definitely helps, yeah,” Martinez acknowledged before giving Adams a second start in the recently-competed homestand in Nationals Park (in a game in which Adams went 0 for 4 with 4 Ks).

Martinez liked the matchup with Adams in that game, and with Ruiz in the next, so he said he decided to get Ruiz some rest.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Game Two Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

“I definitely got to keep an eye on Keibert. He’s almost on pace to catch 140 games, and that’s a lot, so we definitely want to keep an eye on him,” the manager explained.

Acquired from the Blue Jays, in a trade for Brad Hand at the deadline in 2021, Adams played in 35 games with the Nationals that season (.268/.422/.465), but split time between Triple-A and the majors in 2022. He’s grown a lot since coming to D.C. from Toronto, and handled a tough assignment well according to his manager, who was asked what it says about Adams that he’s been able to have some success in a difficult role.

“For me it’s about his preparation, his daily preparation every day,” Martinez said of the work Adams puts in regardless of whether he’s starting or on the bench.

MLB: MAY 15 Mets at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“He’s really good. He treats it like he’s playing that day. He goes over the game reports, starting pitcher, reliever, their hitters, he takes a numerous amount of swings in the cage and on the field, and he prepares himself well, and he’s engaged in the games, and as I always [tell] him, I said, ‘Look, you’re No. 1 priority is handling the pitching staff first, and anything after that, just go out there and play the game and try to square some balls up and try to help us in any way possible offensively, and he’s done a great job with that.”