PHOENIX - They lost Stephen Strasburg to an apparent injury in the third inning. They lost Enny Romero to an apparent injury in the seventh inning. They had a makeshift lineup after losing two more outfielders on Saturday. They were facing an opponent with a potent lineup and an All-Star on the mound.
Recipe for disaster for the Nationals, right? No, not at all.
In spite of all those hurdles, the Nats somehow found a way to cobble together a 6-2 victory over the Diamondbacks this afternoon, capturing this weekend series and heading home with a 7-2 record on a long and winding road trip to open the season’s second half.
A four-run outburst against Robbie Ray in the top of the first put the Nationals in an advantageous position from the get-go. They then hung on for dear life after that, overcoming Strasburg’s early and unexpected departure.
Strasburg did not allow a run and surrendered only one hit in his two innings of work, but he walked three batters and never looked entirely comfortable on the mound. And after throwing 51 pitches, he was pulled with an undisclosed injury. (The Nationals do not provide in-game injury updates, unlike the vast majority of major league clubs.)
The right-hander did not suffer from diminished velocity, and he did not appear to reveal any obvious signs of injury, but he certainly did not pitch like even a mediocre version of himself on this afternoon inside Chase Field.
The Nationals overcame that, though, and pieced together what proved to be an impressive victory given the circumstances.
Despite a makeshift lineup that included Wilmer Difo in left field and Adrian Sanchez at shortstop, the Nationals burst out of the gates, plating four first-inning runs against Ray, the All-Star lefty. Brian Goodwin set the tone with a leadoff homer off the batter’s eye in center. Four more singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly later, the Nats held a 4-0 lead and drove Ray’s pitch count up to 38.
They kept the pressure up in the top of the third, loading the bases and setting the stage for Sanchez to drive in a run on a bases-loaded grounder to short.
Up 5-0, the Nationals were in an enviable spot. But as that top of the third was playing out, a surprising thing happened in the right field bullpen: Matt Grace began warming up, evidence something was wrong with Strasburg.
Sure enough, when the bottom of the third arrived, Grace trotted in from the bullpen and Strasburg’s day was done well before anyone expected it to be done.
Now needing seven innings from his bullpen, Baker began the difficult process of cobbling together the remainder of this game. Grace put up zeroes in the third and fourth innings but then faded in the fifth, allowing two runs before departing after 42 pitches.
Joe Blanton entered in a tight spot - two on, one out - but got out of it by striking out Paul Goldschmidt and getting Chris Owings to ground to short.
Romero pitched out of jams himself during his 1 2/3 innings on the mound, but he had to depart alongside head athletic trainer Paul Lessard with two outs in the bottom of the seventh with an unknown problem, leaving Matt Albers to take over.
Albers came through, striking out Chris Herrmann (though only after Jose Lobaton’s left knee gave out while he was trying to catch a pitch, requiring another visit from Lessard). The right-hander then returned for the eighth and posted another zero to improbably get this game into the ninth with a 6-2 lead intact.
Sean Doollittle then pitched the ninth inning, closing out a Nationals victory for the second straight day and sending his new team home a season-best 21 games over .500.