Big blasts and Gore's gem lead Nats to win over Mariners (updated)

Maybe the Nationals offense just needed an off-day to reset. But they had three this month prior to Thursday’s day off and they didn’t help much.

Whatever they needed to do to get the offense going Friday night against the Mariners, they needed to do it in the worst way before embarking on a stretch of 17 scheduled games over the next 17 days.

Entering tonight’s opener of a three-game series to start this holiday weekend, the Nationals were losers of nine of their last 11 games. In seven of those games, they scored two or fewer runs. They were also 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position over their last two games against the Twins, both losses.

So when an early opportunity to score runs in bunches presented itself tonight, you can forgive the crowd of 23,789 if they weren’t too confident the Nats could capitalize.

But Luis García Jr. proved them wrong, giving them a reason to celebrate with a three-run home run in the fourth inning. Keibert Ruiz then hit a much-needed two-run homer in the sixth. And finally, Eddie Rosario put this one away for good with a longball in the eighth to help propel the Nationals to a 6-1 win over the Mariners.

“We got to get the ball in the zone and take good aggressive swings," manager Davey Martinez said after his team's eighth win of the month. "For the most part, they did that all night. We got some balls in the zone. We hit some fastballs. So we had some really good at-bats, really good at-bats. Guys stayed in the middle of the field. We hit a home run the other way. Keibert finally got in his legs a little bit, spread out a little bit and really stayed behind the baseball. So it was good.”

The evening started as if it was going to be another long night at the plate for the Nats bats. Seattle right-hander George Kirby was perfect his first time through the order on a mere 27 pitches. But the Nats were finally able to build – and score on – a rally in the fourth.

CJ Abrams broke up the perfection bid with an opposite-field single. Joey Meneses also singled to left two batters later. Then up stepped García, who started this week in a 3-for-33 (.091) slump.

The 24-year-old second baseman hit a first-pitch slider right down the middle the opposite way for his fifth homer of the year and second this week. He now has five hits and six RBIs in his last four games.

“It felt great. It's always a great feeling to be able to put the team ahead up early," García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I was able to do that in a moment. At the end of the day, you're trying to win the game. So just to be able to get an early lead is a very great thing. It was a great feeling.”

Two innings later, Ruiz stepped to the plate after Jesse Winker drew a two-out walk. The 25-year-old catcher has been searching for some signs of power ever since he lost almost 20 pounds after a bad bout with the flu earlier this year. Coming into tonight, he only had four extra-base hits in 113 plate appearances.

Ruiz took a hanging sinker from Kirby on the sixth pitch of the at-bat and crushed it 102.7 mph off his bat, depositing it 406 feet away in the right-center field seats for his third homer of the year.

“It feels really good, especially at the moment that I've been through," Ruiz said. "It was a tough moment. I just gotta keep that and keep going every day.”

Those two longballs were more than enough run support for MacKenzie Gore, who tossed a gem in his 10th start of the season.

The 25-year-old lefty threw a 96 mph fastball for a strike as the first pitch of the game at 6:45 p.m. At 6:46 p.m., he threw a second fastball right down the middle, which J.P. Crawford hit into the Brew House seats in center field to put the Nats in a quick 1-0 hole.

“You never want to lead off a game with a homer. But just (move on to) the next guy," Gore said. "What had happened had happened. That's always an interesting thing when the first guy hits a homer.”

But that was the only interesting thing the Mariners would do off Gore, who completed seven innings for the first time this season and for the first time in almost a year (May 28, 2023). He got 17 swing-and-misses, mainly off his fastball (eight) and curveball (six).

"He was attacking the strike zone," Davey Martinez said. "He got early outs. He pitched really, really well. His fastball was electric. He threw breaking balls when he needed to. But he really worked ahead.”

His impressive outing ended on a really strong note. Facing Jorge Polanco with two outs and a man on first in the seventh, Gore battled back from being down 2-0 to run the count full. Though he thought his fifth pitch was the one to strike out the Mariners' second baseman – and it was just a bit outside – he came right back and dropped a perfect 81 mph curveball right in the bottom of the zone for his final swing-and-miss and eighth punchout of the night.

“Delivery felt good, body felt good," Gore said. "I thought the command was fine. And it showed that we were able to get some quick outs at times and they were aggressive. So yeah, it was good.”

“There's just one word to say," García said, "and that was: Incredible.”

Gore was charged with the one run on four hits, one walk and eight strikeouts on 98 pitches, 65 strikes. One of his more impressive outings of the year.

“To get through sevens is always good," he said. "One run. I mean, we won the game. So we need to win a game. Come back here tomorrow and do it again.”

Then after Hunter Harvey pitched a perfect eighth inning, Rosario hit a pitch well inside from old friend Austin Voth into the Nats bullpen for good measure. The Nats outfielder almost had to step out of the batter’s box to hit it. No, really.

Per, the pitch Rosario hit was 1.57 feet from the center of the plate, the furthest-inside pitch a left-handed hitter has homered off of under Statcast (2015).

"To be honest, I didn't see the pitch location," García said with a laugh. "I just saw obviously the home run hit, which he hit very well. But we all kind of collectively looked at the iPad to see where and how it was hit. We were all surprised at how he was able to turn on that. Even he himself was very surprised. I don't know how to hit that pitch."

"Eddie, when he's hitting good," Davey Martinez said, "if he gets a fastball, no matter where it is, he hits it pretty hard.”

The Nationals have had some offensive outbursts here and there in May. This one tonight helped them get a win. Now the trick is to do it more consistently.

“As a team, we just keep going," Ruiz said. "Help each other in the bad moments. And try to find a way to help this team win.”

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