With barrage of two-out hits, Nationals celebrate a rare blowout

SAN FRANCISCO - The hits would come, Davey Martinez insisted, as long as the Nationals kept giving themselves opportunities and had the right approach in key situations.

The first-year manager is a relentless optimist, but he surely had developed more than a few doubters over the season’s first month, especially over the last week while his club flailed away at what few scoring opportunities they had on the West Coast.

And then, in a sustained display unlike anything else they had offered up the previous four weeks, it all came together in glorious fashion. In trouncing the Giants 15-2 to wrap up this road trip, the Nationals rewarded their new skipper for his faith in them and offered a glimpse of what could now come.

“Like I said, the boys have been swinging the bats well,” Martinez said. “They all swung the bats really well. So this could actually jumpstart our offense. And we’ll keep it going.”

We won’t know until they open a long homestand Friday night against the Diamondbacks whether this was the beginning of something big or just one fantastic afternoon at AT&T Park. But for at least this moment, the Nationals were able to enjoy themselves on the field, and especially at the plate.

“We know that this is what the offense is capable of doing,” first baseman Matt Adams said. “If we keep going out there and having quality ABs like we have been, things are going to start falling. And they did today.”

Adams was among the biggest contributors to today’s barrage, driving in the first run with a two-out single in the top of the first, extending the lead with a three-run homer in the top of the fourth and then adding on with a two-run double in the ninth.

The big lefty slugger also was one of several reserves or recent call-ups who were in the lineup as Martinez sought to give veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick and Matt Wieters a day off from the starting lineup while also trying to account for the continued absences of injured regulars Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.

The end result was a lineup card that might have looked more like something Martinez would have scribbled out for a March 12 game in Port St. Lucie than an April 25 game in front of a crowd of 35,126. Wilmer Difo batted second. Michael A. Taylor batted fifth. Andrew Stevenson batted sixth. Adrian Sanchez batted seventh.

But that configuration worked beyond even Martinez’s wildest dreams. It produced the Nationals’ largest offensive output since a comparable 15-2 victory over the Brewers on July 27, 2017.

Stevenson-Swings-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“It’s something you think you can do every time you step in the lineup,” said Stevenson, who started for the first time this season and only the 13th time in his career. “That’s something I have the confidence in myself. I know I can compete with these guys. Just to go out there and do it, it’s kind of cool when you look back at it. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

Stevenson may have a long and productive career, but he may never top his performance this afternoon. The 23-year-old outfielder went 4-for-5 with a walk, two doubles and four RBIs, barely missing out on joining a short list (six names) of Nationals who have reached base six times in a game.

“He’s a good player,” Adams said. “He’s got a lot of talent, and he put on a show today. But the guy works his butt off. For someone like that to get the results he did today, it’s good to see.”

Two of Stevenson’s RBI hits came with two outs, but he was hardly alone in delivering those kind of moments. A stunning 14 of the Nationals’ 15 runs (including their first 12) came with two outs, most in club history and most in the majors since the Yankees did it on Aug. 30, 2015.

How big of a reversal of fortune was that? Well, the Nationals entered the day having scored 36 runs while batting .218 with two outs in the season’s first 24 games. In one afternoon, they scored 14 runs and batted .526 (10-for-19) with two outs.

“We saw more balls (hit) up the middle of the field, which we preach all the time,” Martinez said. “Especially with two outs and two strikes, staying in the middle of the field. And they did that today, and it’s good.”

And so a team that scratched and clawed just to score eight total runs during the four-game losing streak that preceded this game went out and scored 15 in the span of 3 hours, 13 minutes this afternoon.

In the clubhouse afterward, Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” was blaring over the stereo. Given the way things had been going, can you blame them for relishing every moment of this unlikely performance?

“That really does a number for teams to really get some momentum,” ace Max Scherzer said. “When you get that as a starting pitcher, you just want to go out there and put up zeros to get the offense back in and have everybody run to the bat rack. So that’s what makes it fun, especially when you have your teammates behind you and when you get that type of run support.”

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