Bats come alive in Colorado as Nats cruise to victory (updated)

DENVER – Nobody in the clubhouse wanted to admit it this afternoon, but surely everyone was thinking it. If ever there was a place built to snap a moribund lineup out of its funk, it had to be Coors Field, right?

The Nationals arrived in the Mile High City reeling from a three-game series against the Diamondbacks in which they scored a total of five runs and saw a grand total of 287 pitches. (Somehow, they still won one of those three games.) But spirits remained high, because a weekend set with the Rockies felt like just what the doctor ordered.

And indeed it was, because in the series opener in the best hitter’s park in America, the Nats put forth one of their best offensive performances of the year, cruising to an 11-5 victory behind a season-high 19 hits.

"They responded really well," manager Davey Martinez said. "We talked a lot about know yourself. Know who you are. Know what pitches you want to attack. Stay on the fastball. We did well today."

Everybody in the lineup reached base once, and all but Nick Senzel reached multiple times. But Lane Thomas led the way with an RBI single, a two-run double and an RBI triple, the red-hot right fielder coming up just short of his first career cycle when he grounded out and then struck out in his final two at-bats.

"I didn't really think about it until after the three hits," Thomas said. "Sometimes I wish I wouldn't think about it, because then maybe the next two at-bats would've gone a little better. ... I definitely was thinking about hitting a homer. I definitely shouldn't do that anymore."

The Nationals also got a three-run homer from Luis García Jr. and three hits from CJ Abrams in the latter’s return after a two-day absence with a cyst in his left wrist.

In the wake of their abysmal offensive series against Arizona, the Nationals took the field tonight continuing to preach an aggressive approach, but a smart one as well. Swing early, yes, but only if it’s the right pitch in the right location.

"When we get the ball in the zone, and not chase, we hit the ball well," Martinez said. "It's been that way. We've got to be more consistent with it every day: Get the ball up in the strike zone. I don't mind the aggressiveness, but swing at strikes."

They responded in kind with a flurry of hits to begin the night, five of their first nine batters, to be precise. And yet they failed to score in the first or second inning thanks to two unnecessary outs made on the bases, with Abrams caught stealing third and Senzel inexplicably trying to go first-to-third on an infield chopper and easily getting thrown out in the process.

No matter, because the hits kept on coming in the third, and this time the Nats didn’t waste them. Jacob Young doubled. Thomas singled him home. Eddie Rosario doubled him home. And then García ripped an absolute missile to right for a three-run homer to complete the five-run rally.

That’s eight batters, five runs in the top of the third, equaling the team’s entire scoring output from its previous 30 offensive innings.

"We're a good fastball-hitting team," García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I think they were attacking a lot with the fastball, and we were being selective and aggressive with those pitches. Things just worked out today for us. We had a good night."

They weren’t done. Drew Millas ambushed Dakota Hudson’s first pitch of the fourth and cleared the center field wall for his first homer of the season, the second of his young career. Back-to-back singles knocked Hudson from the game, and then Thomas greeted reliever Geoff Hartlieb with a two-run double. By the end of the inning, the Nationals had four more runs on the board and a 9-1 lead.

And they did it with the same aggressive approach that killed them against the Diamondbacks. Six of their first 17 batters tonight put the first pitch of a plate appearance in play. They went 5-for-6 with two doubles and a homer on those swings.

"I feel like we hit some balls hard in those last couple games at home, but sometimes they don't fall," Thomas said. "Sometimes you need a day like today to break out and get some hits and get everybody moving in the right direction again."

Handed an eight-run lead, DJ Herz should’ve had all the confidence in the world to just throw strikes and record-outs. That mindset would be fine in 29 major league parks, but not in this one, where no lead ever truly feels comfortable. So while the rookie did the right thing and threw strikes, he paid the price for it in the thin air.

Three Rockies clubbed homers off Herz in a span of seven batters. Ezequiel Tovar went deep to left in the third. Nolan Jones went way deep to right in the fourth. And two batters later, Hunter Goodman blasted a high changeup to left, and just like that the 9-1 lead was now 9-5.

"I'm happy about the amount of strikes, and no walks again," Herz said. "Baseball's baseball. Every time they scored, we answered. It was nice to see the run support and everybody hitting the ball tonight. It was a lot of fun."

Davey Martinez tried to give Herz – who struck out 13 in his breakthrough start last weekend – as much rope to pitch his way through it all, but after two more hits he pulled the starter with two outs in the fourth, making him ineligible for the win.

"DJ got a little tired there at the end," Martinez said. "He threw (33) pitches that inning, and he started losing his mechanics a little bit. So we had to get him out. But the rest of the guys did really well."

Needing 5 1/3 innings from a bullpen that hasn’t featured a true long man all year, Martinez got four outs from Derek Law, then three a piece from Dylan Floro and Robert Garcia before Tanner Rainey finished it off with a rare, six-out appearance.

And thanks to two more insurance runs from Young, Abrams and Thomas in the sixth – the latter two delivering extra-base hits on the first pitch to make the team 7-for-8 with 15 total bases on such swings – the Nats could enjoy the final innings of this game feeling comfortable, no matter the setting.

"Coming in here as a visiting club is tough," Martinez said. "The air's different here. Towards the end, they were all hot, sweaty and they were tired. But they did a great job."

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