PHILADELPHIA - Answering a question this afternoon after his team’s dramatic drop in home runs during this long and frustrating month, Davey Martinez offered up a different cure for the Nationals’ offensive woes.
“If you’ve noticed the days we’ve actually had good at-bats, we’ve hit a lot of balls up the middle,” the manager said. “And the approach was like that. There’s a lot of hits up the middle and in the gaps. So just stay there. They’re going to hit home runs, I know they are. But right now, try to get a ball you can handle, swing at strikes and stay in the middle of the field.”
So how did the Nationals respond tonight? Well, they scored 11 runs in their first four innings against the Phillies. The first 10 of which scored on four home runs. And by night’s end, they had slugged a season-high seven homers while totaling 17 runs.
Hey, why hit singles up the middle when you can hit bombs into the bleachers?
The manner in which the Nationals lineup finally exploded did not matter. The mere fact it did during a 17-7 victory at Citizens Bank Park did matter.
“We needed that,” Martinez said.
And it certainly didn’t hurt that much of the barrage came early, before anyone could start panicking and pressing and falling into the bad habits that have made this one of the majors’ least-productive lineups in June.
Five batters into this game, the Nationals already led 4-0. They did so thanks to a pair of two-run homers, one by Trea Turner, the other by Juan Soto. It was Soto’s seventh home run in 35 big league games, the fourth hit to the opposite field.
“Everybody has fun,” Soto said. “Everybody just hears the sound of the ball, wants to see how far the ball is going. We have fun with that.”
The Nationals didn’t let up. A pair of two-out walks drawn by Turner and Bryce Harper in the top of the second set the table for Anthony Rendon, who cleaned up with a drive into the right-center field bleachers, his 10th of the season.
Nick Pivetta, the former Nats prospect who three years ago was traded to Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon, lasted only one more batter, departing after 1 2/3 disastrous innings. But his replacement, Yacksel Rios, fared no better.
Harper put a definitive stamp on the proceedings in the top of the fourth when he drove a pitch from Rios to left-center, a three-run homer that was his league-leading 20th of the season but his first since June 9.
“Hitting’s contagious,” said Harper, who in addition to the homer also drew three walks. “When everybody’s doing it, all the guys are. It’s a lot of fun to be out there and a lot of fun to be a part of the game.”
Up 11 runs in the fourth, the Nationals should have been able to set the cruise control and finish this one off with minimal effort. Except Erick Fedde could not shut the door on the Phillies and allowed this game to remain interesting.
Fedde, facing Philadelphia for the second time in six days, posted three zeroes to begin his evening but then needed 64 pitches to make it through the fourth and fifth innings. He gave up two runs in the fourth, then two homers in the fifth, and despite a pitch count that reached 115, the rookie right-hander was allowed by Martinez to finish the inning and thus qualify for his first career win.
“He kept us in the game,” the manager said. “It’s the most pitches he’s thrown. He needed to eat the innings, because we wanted to save the bullpen. But he did well.”
Even after all that, the Nationals still led 12-5 at the seventh-inning stretch ... only to continue to keep the Phillies within striking distance when lefty Tim Collins surrendered a towering, two-run homer to Carlos Santana that left a crowd of 36,903 that stuck out this marathon in order to see the postgame fireworks show squealing with delight.
Those fans were treated with three more rocket launches before the game ended, though all came via the visitors: Brian Goodwin’s leadoff homer in the top of the ninth, then back-to-back blasts by Soto and Mark Reynolds (who snapped an 0-for-25 slump with a second-deck shot that was the Nationals’ seventh of the game.
Thus did Soto become only the fourth player in history to have multiple two-homer games in the major leagues before turning 20.
“It feels pretty good,” the 19-year-old said. “Now we’re back. We come back. I hope we keep doing the same thing. We’ll come tomorrow with the same plan and keep doing very good like today.”
If they do that, the Nationals might just end a miserable June on a high note. They entered the day 30th in the majors in home runs for the month, but finished the night tied with the Rays for 24th. They hit 12 home runs from June 1-28. Then they hit seven on June 29.
“You know, it was just a matter of time,” Martinez said. “I really believe these guys are good hitters. We talked a lot about getting balls in the strike zone and working counts, and today they were really good. ... Their approach was phenomenal today.”