After long trip, Nats know there’s plenty of work ahead of them

SAN FRANCISCO - The flight home at the end of a three-city, nine-game, cross-country road trip is pleasant for no one. The Nationals were scheduled to land at Dulles International Airport at 2:20 a.m. this morning, but by the time they bused back into the city to retrieve their cars and then head home, they were looking at something like a 3:30 a.m. walk through the front door.

If nothing else, at least they boarded that flight Wednesday night in San Francisco with the positive vibes that came from a 15-2 blowout win over the Giants a few hours earlier.

That certainly beat the alternative had they lost their fifth straight to wrap up a brutal trip.

“I mean, obviously we wanted to try to not get swept,” said Matt Adams, who helped ensure that wouldn’t happen with a 3-for-5, six-RBI performance. “Our goal was to come in and win the series. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. But this is a game we can build on. We did a lot of things right today. We’ll take that game and go back home with some confidence and get ready for the next series.”

The Nationals wound up 4-5 on the trip, which was not the result they expected, certainly not after they won the first two games at Citi Field to gain some ground on the first-place Mets. Turns out they won only two of the remaining seven games, and each of those was started by Max Scherzer (even though they would’ve won with anybody on the hill Wednesday, given the offensive explosion).

With the season now 15 percent complete, the Nationals find themselves three games under .500, with plenty of work still ahead of them. And the task doesn’t get any easier: Following a day off to recover from the trip, they host the Nationals League West-leading Diamondbacks, then the surprising Pirates and Phillies during a 10-game homestand.

Scherzer-Throw-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“We’ve got to play better baseball overall,” Scherzer said. “We all know it. You guys know it. The other teams know it. So we’ve just got to continue to keep grinding. And as we finish out April, we need to have a good series here.”

The Nationals still face an uphill climb given their depleted lineup, but help may finally be on the way. Adam Eaton, out since April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, is eligible to come off the disabled list and could be close. Anthony Rendon, out since April 13 with a bruised left big toe, plans to try to run Friday and is eligible to come off the DL on Sunday. Daniel Murphy, in the final stages of rehab from October knee surgery, continues to play in extended spring training games in West Palm Beach and may not need to go on a minor league rehab assignment before he is activated to make his season debut.

With or without those stalwarts, though, the Nationals need to figure out how to deliver more key hits like they did Wednesday. They need to continue to get strong pitching from their rotation. And they need to figure out how to get more consistent work from their bullpen. Improvement in any or all of those departments would go a long way toward turning close losses - they’re 1-6 in one-run games - into wins.

For now, they’re just happy to be heading home at last. And to have the opportunity to focus on a different spot for one day before returning to the ballpark.

“We go on a long flight,” manager Davey Martinez said, “go home, have a day off, root for the Caps and come back Friday.”

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