DENVER – The runs would come, the Nationals insisted. As would the power, so long as they continued to have good at-bats. They just needed to start hitting the ball in the air and hitting the ball with authority in the right moments.
And then Alex Call and Jeimer Candelario backed up the sentiment with back-to-back homers to open tonight’s game at Coors Field, setting the tone for the Nats’ best offensive game of the young season, a 10-5 victory over the Rockies.
Call and Candelario set the tone with their early blasts. CJ Abrams provided the real punch later on with a three-hit, two-triple, three-RBI night. Everyone in the Nationals lineup recorded at least one hit by the sixth inning, with the team totaling 19 by night’s end.
"I think it's only a matter of time before we can open up like that," Call said. "I don't know if we're going to get 19 hits every night, but we have a great team in here and we're confident in all our guys. It was great to see everybody swing the bat really well."
Oh, and MacKenzie Gore pitched well again, allowing just two runs over six innings to improve to 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in the first two starts of his Nats career. The left-hander is the only pitcher on the staff with a win to date.
There were some downsides to this victory, which snapped a four-game losing streak. Erasmo Ramírez allowed the Rockies to make the game closer than it should have been, surrendering three runs in the seventh in relief of Gore. But Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan made sure things never got any closer, with Finnegan bouncing back from a blown save Tuesday in D.C. to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth tonight.
The worst development of the evening, though, may have been the departure of Luis García, who grabbed his right hamstring after running out a grounder to end the top of the sixth. The young second baseman, who had two hits and a nifty play in the field, walked off the field alongside director of athletic training Paul Lessard and was replaced by Ildemaro Vargas.
Manager Davey Martinez was cautiously optimistic the injury wasn't serious, saying García would be "day-to-day" with hamstring tightness. García was walking around the clubhouse postgame without a limp and said he believes he'll be fine.
"I think he's going to be OK," Martinez said. "They examined him. He's got good strength. If he needs a day tomorrow, we can give him a day. But let's see how he feels tomorrow when he gets up."
Martinez put Call in the leadoff spot tonight for the first time this season, liking the matchup against Rockies starter José Ureña. Little could he have known just how much he’d like that matchup.
Call led off the game with a 410-foot homer to left, blasting a 95 mph fastball from Ureña and circling the bases with glee after giving his a team a quick lead. And he expressed even more joy from the dugout moments later when Candelario followed with a no-doubt, 442-foot moonshot to right-center to make it 2-0.
This was only the fifth time the Nationals have ever hit back-to-back homers to start a game. And in this case, that feat actually doubled the team’s season home run total.
"We know we can hit," Candelario said. "We know we can put the barrel on the ball. That's what we did today, and that's what we'll continue doing. Hopefully we can be like that the whole season."
Just as they did five days ago in his previous start, the Nats gave Gore an early lead in the first. Unlike that previous start, they kept adding on to that lead. And then some.
Three straight singles from the lower half of the order set the stage for a two-run top of the second that also included a bases-loaded walk from Call. They scored another pair of runs in the top of the third, with Abrams driving both in on the first of his two triples, a 107-mph rope to the gap in right-center.
Abrams wasn’t done. He lined another ball to right field in the fifth, motoring his way 270 feet around the bases for another RBI triple. And in the process, he became only the fifth player in club history to record two triples in a game, a list that includes some expected names (Denard Span, Cristian Guzman, Ben Revere) and one highly unexpected name (Bernie Castro).
After a rough Opening Day in the field and an 0-for-10 start at the plate during the opening homestand, Abrams has found his stroke. He’s 7-for-15 since and hitting the ball with authority, all while playing a much smoother shortstop.
"I think I've been hitting better pitches," Abrams said. "My swing has been pretty good, more direct. We're all swinging it pretty well. Nineteen hits? I like that."
The eight runs of offensive support surely were appreciated by Gore. Truth be told, he didn’t need nearly that much because he once again was in control.
Gore’s only real mistake with a hanging slider to Ryan McMahon, who led off the bottom of the second with a homer to right-center. The other run he allowed came in the fourth, when a two-out walk of Elias Díaz kept the inning alive for Yonathan Daza’s subsequent RBI single to right, though that hit still ended the inning thanks to Lane Thomas’ laser of a throw from right field to nab Díaz at third base.
Otherwise, Gore was highly effective, turning to his 95-96 mph fastball for outs when he needed them and cruising through six innings of two-run ball on 98 pitches. He departed with 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings to go along with a 2.38 ERA two starts into his Nationals career.
"It's been good," the lefty said. "There's definitely some stuff we can get better at, but the games I've pitched, we've played great. It's just great to be a part of it."