On the non-controversial parts of Wednesday's game

Kyle Finnegan throw red far

The archaic manner in which the top of the fifth ended dominated the discussion of Wednesday’s 8-7 loss to the Pirates, but at least everyone now knows Rule 5.09c and the so-called “fourth out” clause.

There were a lot of other things going on in this game, though, things worth revisiting as the Nationals sleep in and enjoy a day off before opening a four-game, holiday weekend series with the Marlins on Friday. …

* Josh Bell is red hot again
After a consistently productive opening two months to the season, Bell had finally begun to cool off a bit in mid-June. He endured an 0-for-11 mini-slump from June 12-15, one that lowered his batting average 15 points (from .305 to .290) and his OPS 30 points (from .831 to .801).

And then, just like that, Bell turned it back on again and has been as good as ever at the plate. With a 3-for-3, two-double, two-walk showing Wednesday afternoon, he is now batting .467 (21-for-45) over his last 13 games, with 10 extra-base hits, a .564 on-base percentage, .889 slugging percentage and 1.453 OPS. This was only the second time he’s reached base five times in a game in his career, first with the Nationals.

All of that has lifted Bell’s season batting average to .319 and his OPS to .909.

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Obscure rule leads to decisive run in Nats' loss (updated)

umps huddle

Whatever took place on South Capitol Street this afternoon would not qualify as “good” baseball in the minds of most. Mistakes were made, both physical and mental. Outs were given away, both in the field and on the bases. Effective pitching was hard to come by. An obscure, and fairly infuriating, rule was invoked in the top of the fifth, giving the Pirates a run they didn’t particularly deserve.

And wouldn’t you know how this would all turn out in the end, with the Nationals losing by that one run, 8-7, in a ballgame that was, if not well-played, at least interesting.

A back-and-forth affair ultimately came down to the run umpires awarded the Pirates on a bizarre play in the fifth that saw the Nationals turn an inning-ending double play yet still surrender a run to a guy who left third base too soon on a lineout because they didn’t properly appeal to have him declared what practically speaking would’ve been the fourth out of the inning.

Got all that? We’ll attempt to explain further in just a moment.

The upshot at the end of the day: The Nats failed to complete their first three-game sweep of the season, and now head into an off-day trying to sort through the mess they just endured on a warm, late-June afternoon in D.C.

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Rainey getting results, but Nats would like cleaner innings


In the big picture, the results have been there for Tanner Rainey this season. The Nationals closer owns a 2.88 ERA and 11 saves, including four straight conversions. He’s been unscored upon in 20 of his 25 appearances.

So why does it feel like more of a roller coaster than that when Rainey enters for the ninth inning? Because he’s putting guys on base, especially via walk, and often forcing himself to have to pitch out of jams.

Rainey hasn’t enjoyed a 1-2-3 inning of relief since May 26, a span of 11 outings. He had six of them in his first 14 appearances this season.

Walks are frequently the issue, especially when the Nationals lead by more than one run. He’s issued five of them over his last 7 1/3 innings.

“Understand the score of the game. Understand what we’re trying to do,” manager Davey Martinez said. “There’s times and situations where he feels like a walk won’t hurt him, because he knows the next guy he can get out. I tell him: ‘When you get out there, it’s three quick outs. Don’t worry about (anything else).’ He’s got to understand, we’re up two. He’s just got to attack hitters, try to keep them off base. But he’s learning. Closing’s not easy, as we all know.”

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Game 78 lineups: Nats vs. Pirates

davey martinez staring

The turnaround of the Nationals rotation over the last week-plus has been nothing short of remarkable. Over their last nine games, starters have delivered a 1.66 ERA, allowing only 10 total earned runs over 54 1/3 innings. Nobody has been charged with more than three earned runs in a start since Joan Adon in the opener of the June 17 doubleheader against the Phillies, a full 12 days ago.

So it’s up to Paolo Espino to keep the ball rolling today and potentially lead the Nats to a three-game sweep of the Pirates. Espino has been quite good since his move from low-leverage reliever to No. 4 starter, allowing three earned runs on nine hits over 10 1/3 innings. He’s yet to complete six innings in a game, and he’d love to get that far today if he can keep his pitch count down.

The Nationals would also love to get a clutch hit or two prior to the bottom of the eighth. That strategy, though it has worked the last two nights, probably isn’t sustainable over the long haul. So perhaps some early offense against Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller would help today and take some pressure off Espino.

Nationals Park

Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Sunny, 83 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell
DH Nelson Cruz
SS Luis García
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
3B Ehire Adrianza
CF Victor Robles

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Nats bench comes through big in rare case

Yadiel Hernandez swing white

Davey Martinez has always liked the idea of a deep and talented bench, offering him opportunities to play matchups late in games. And the Nationals manager did it often en route to a World Series title in 2019, summoning a pinch-hitter off his bench 252 times, then even more last season, when pinch-hitters received 282 plate appearances.

The times, though, they are a changing. With the designated hitter now in the National League on a full-time basis, there simply hasn’t been much reason to turn to the bench late in games this season. To wit: The Nats have taken only 22 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter so far, third-fewest in the majors.

So consider what happened Tuesday night to be well outside the norm this season. Martinez didn’t just use one pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth of a 3-1 victory over the Pirates. He used two.

First it was Luis García, out of the lineup for the first time in 26 games since his promotion from Triple-A Rochester, batting for Maikel Franco. Then it was Yadiel Hernandez batting for Alcides Escobar and coming through with the two-run double that broke a tie game. And then to set up his best defensive alignment for the ninth, Martinez brought in Ehire Adrianza to play third instead of Franco, with García playing shortstop. 

Was that how Martinez planned for it to all work out?

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Hernandez's clutch hit rewards Corbin for dominant start (updated)

Corbin pitch white

Through it all, through the awful starts, the mediocre starts and the hard-luck starts, Davey Martinez has stuck with Patrick Corbin. The Nationals manager has maintained throughout this three-year slump the one-time stalwart of a World Series pitching staff still had it in him, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Whether tonight represented a dramatic turning point or a mere blip on the radar against a weak opponent, we won’t know for a while. But for one late-June evening under an unseasonably mild D.C. summer sky, the lefty did still have it in him.

With a season-high 113 pitches and a career-high-matching 12 strikeouts, Corbin tossed eight innings of one-run ball, giving the Nats a chance to beat the Pirates. Now he just needed somebody with a bat in his hand to make it all worth it.

Enter Yadiel Hernandez. Summoned off the bench to pinch-hit for Alcides Escobar with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth, Hernandez drilled a two-run double to right to propel the Nationals to a 3-1 victory and extend this team’s sudden hot streak.

"Everyone tonight did a good job," Corbin said. "Defense behind me. (Tanner) Rainey came in and shut the door. And then we get a couple big runs there by Yadi late. It was huge."

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García gets first day off since call-up from Triple-A

Garcia hitting white

Davey Martinez knew Luis García wasn’t going to play every day. Though the Nationals manager made it clear the 22-year-old would be his starting shortstop upon his promotion from Triple-A Rochester at the beginning of the month, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get a day off at some point.

And that day is today, with García on the bench for the second game of this series against the Pirates, with Alcides Escobar getting the nod at shortstop for the first time in four weeks.

García had started all 25 of the Nationals’ games since his June 1 promotion, and he’s performed quite well at the plate, batting .337 with eight doubles, a triple, two homers, 11 RBIs and an .847 OPS across 101 plate appearances.

On the heels of a 3-for-4, two-double showing Monday night, it might sound illogical for García to get tonight’s game off. But Martinez had this planned for a while, a product of the Nats’ schedule, which includes Wednesday’s 1:05 p.m. series finale before the team’s off-day Thursday.

“So it gives him a few days (of rest), even though he’s available today if we need him,” the manager said. “He’s been playing well. He’s been playing a lot. And we’ve got to remember, he played every day at Triple-A as well before he got here. So I thought today would be a good day, and get Escobar some at-bats.”

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Game 77 lineups: Nats vs. Pirates

Corbin blue

Don’t look now, but the Nationals have won five of their last seven. Would you believe that’s their best seven-game stretch since June 2021, when they went on a month-long surge to give everybody false hope before it all came crumbling down in July? They’ll try to make it six of their last eight tonight when they host the Pirates in the second of this three-game series.

The rotation has been excellent during this run, with one notable exception: Patrick Corbin, who was knocked out after four innings Wednesday night in the rain-shortened game in Baltimore. The other starters have been doing their job recently. The Nats would love for Corbin to keep it going and join the others tonight.

The Nationals also would like to get more production in clutch situations than they did Monday night. Even though they wound up winning, 3-2, they had only one hit in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position: Maikel Franco’s game-winning homer in the bottom of the eighth. They could use more situational hitting tonight against veteran left-hander José Quintana, who had a 2.19 ERA over his first seven starts but has seen that number skyrocket to 5.18 over his last seven.

Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:055 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, wind 5 mph left field to right field

LF Lane Thomas
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell 
DH Nelson Cruz
3B Maikel Franco
2B César Hernández 
SS Alcides Escobar
C Riley Adams 
CF Victor Robles

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On Soto's walks, umps' mistake and Escobar's absence

Soto white

ARLINGTON, Texas – In discussing Juan Soto’s struggles with runners in scoring position prior to Sunday’s game, Davey Martinez mentioned the importance of the Nationals slugger “accepting his walks” and thus not trying too hard to drive in runs when presented with the opportunity.

Wouldn’t you know Soto would wind up drawing four walks during Sunday’s 6-4 victory over the Rangers, though none of them came with a runner in scoring position (nor did the single he delivered in his other plate appearance). Instead, it was Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz driving Soto in during an early offensive barrage.

No matter. It’s the approach from Soto that pleased Martinez the most, and the hope that will continue when he does come up again with a chance to drive in runs.

“I would like him to walk a couple times, and then hit the ball a few times,” the manager said with a laugh. “But he’s going to take his walks, and when he’s taking his walks, I know he’s ready to hit. He’s seeing the ball. He got on base for us, and the other guys – Nellie and Josh – picked us up big-time today.”

It was the first time this season Soto drew four walks, the fourth time he’s done that during his career. It was also the first time this season he reached base five times, the sixth time he’s done that during his career.

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Tetreault continues surprising run by Nats rotation (updated)

jackson tetereault pitches gray

ARLINGTON, Texas – Jackson Tetreault made his major league debut 12 days ago not necessarily based on performance, but more so based on the Nationals’ desperate need for a fill-in starter who was on schedule. Tetreault, who owned a 4.19 ERA at Triple-A Rochester, fit the bill and thus was summoned to face a Braves lineup that pounded him for seven runs in four innings.

The Nats could’ve sent the 26-year-old right-hander back to Rochester after that, but Davey Martinez believed he earned the right to make another start. And now, after successive standout performances, the manager has no reason to want to send his young pitcher back anytime soon.

"This kid comes up here, and he's very much under control," Martinez said. "He's got a good idea what he wants to do. And he works every day. We'll get him back out there in five days. He's done well."

With six-plus innings of one-run ball this afternoon, Tetreault picked up right where he left off last Sunday against the Phillies, this time earning his second career win in a 6-4 victory over the Rangers that turned way more tense than it needed to be.

Holding a five-run lead entering the ninth, Martinez asked Francisco Perez to finish it off and allow closer Tanner Rainey a chance to rest. Perez, though, didn't retire any of the three batters he faced in his first appearance in nine days, all of them scoring thanks to Nathaniel Lowe's RBI single and Jonah Heim's two-run homer. That forced Rainey into the game for a surprise save situation, which he converted.

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Soto back in 2-spot, now trying to solve RISP woes

juan soto swinging blue

ARLINGTON, Texas – Nine days ago, in the opener of their doubleheader against the Phillies, the Nationals tried to mount a bottom-of-the-ninth rally. Trailing by two runs, the bottom of the order got two men on base with one out, turning the lineup over and giving better hitters a chance to pull it off.

But then Lane Thomas grounded out, César Hernández struck out and Juan Soto found himself watching a 5-3 loss become official from the on-deck circle.

That was the last time Soto batted third for the Nats. In each of eight games since, he has served as their No. 2 hitter. And that has been by design.

“We’re getting all these numbers periodically, and analytically the numbers suggest our best hitter should hit two,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s getting a lot of opportunities with guys on base, and that’s kind of where I want him. The other thing: It happened again where he was on-deck and we couldn't get him up there (to the plate). I don’t want that. If we have a chance to win a game, I want him up and not on-deck.”

There certainly is logic behind that. It’s among the reasons Martinez had Soto batting second to begin the season. But as the slugger struggled, the Nationals decided to try him back in his more familiar No. 3 spot to see if it sparked anything in him.

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Game 75 lineups: Nats at Rangers

jackson tetreault pitches white

ARLINGTON, Texas – We’ve reached the finale of what has proven to be a very competitive interleague series here at Globe Life Field. The Nationals won Friday night’s opener by one run. Then the Rangers won Saturday afternoon’s game by one run (via walk-off homer). What awaits this afternoon in the rubber match of the series?

The Nationals can only hope they continue to get the kind of quality pitching that has seemingly come out of nowhere over the last week. Starting pitchers have produced a sparkling 1.53 ERA over the last six games, with Josiah Gray responsible for both the front and the back end of this streak and everyone else contributing to varying degrees in between.

Today's game is Jackson Tetreault’s chance to prove his last start was legit. The rookie right-hander really impressed against the Phillies, allowing three unearned runs over seven innings, the last of which was especially notable because it began with Tetreault taking a comebacker off his leg but staying in there to record the final three outs.

A Nats lineup that continues to struggle to score runs in bunches will try to break through against Glenn Otto. Here’s the scouting report on Glenn Otto: He’s right-handed, and he’s the Rangers’ starting pitcher today. That’s as much advance information this brain was privy to, but upon further inspection, Otto had good numbers in the minors (3.02 ERA, 1.183 WHIP, 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings) but has yet to enjoy the same success in his first 14 major league starts (6.08 ERA, 1.492 WHIP, 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings). But he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his last four games.

Globe Life Field
Gametime: 2:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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Gray's start spoiled by Rangers' walk-off homer (updated)

gray pitch @TEX gray

ARLINGTON, Texas – The only question Josiah Gray needs to answer at this still-early stage of his career is that of consistency. We already know the young right-hander has the ability on any given day to be a successful big leaguer. And we know he’s capable of stringing together several top-notch starts in a row.

Gray just needs to prove now he can do it over the long haul. On afternoons like this, it’s more than appropriate to believe he can.

With seven dominant innings that included nine strikeouts, thanks to some razor-sharp breaking balls, Gray authored the longest start of his career and put the Nationals in position to win. If only the rest of his teammates had been able to do their part to reward him.

A lack of run support left this game tied heading to the bottom of the ninth. Adolis Garcia then blasted a slider over the plate from Kyle Finnegan deep to left-center for the walk-off homer that gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory.

"He's been a rock for us lately," Finnegan said of Gray. "And to see him go out there and dominate is huge for the team. It's unfortunate that we weren't able to pull it out for him tonight, but to get a start like that is really promising for us, and we love to see it."

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Consistency has been hallmark of García's recent success

garcia throws @ MIA blue

ARLINGTON, Texas – There’s a lot to like about Luis García’s offensive performance this month, and maybe the thing to like the most is that there is so much to like.

García has excelled in just about every significant situation since the Nationals called him up from Triple-A Rochester on June 1. He enters today’s game against the Rangers batting .326 with six doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs. He’s batting .312 vs. righties, .360 vs. lefties. He’s batting .357 with two outs. He’s batting .347 with runners in scoring position. He’s batting .500 (6-for-12) with two outs and runners in scoring position. He’s batting .227 with two strikes, which is significantly better than the leaguewide average of .169.

Pick your situation, chances are García is thriving in it right now.

“It’s very important, because those situations are big to helping the team win,” the 22-year-old shortstop said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “It just comes down to whatever you can do to help the team win.”

García has been helping the Nationals win, delivering one of their two run-scoring hits during Friday night’s 2-1 victory over Texas. He did so while batting fifth for the third time this season, manager Davey Martinez having slowly moved him up from the bottom of the lineup over the course of the last week.

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Game 74 lineups: Nats at Rangers

soto homers @CIN blue

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Nationals rotation has actually put together a nice run here lately. In four of the last five games, their starters have surrendered one total earned run (by Paolo Espino in his final inning Friday night). The lone outlier was Patrick Corbin, who despite his struggles still only gave up three runs in four innings Wednesday in Baltimore. So all told, the last trip through the rotation saw the Nats give up four total earned runs. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The run began with Josiah Gray shutting out the Phillies on Ryan Zimmerman Day in D.C., exactly one week ago. The young right-hander was pushed to a career-high 117 pitches, but he takes the mound today having been given two extra days of rest, so he should be plenty fresh when he faces the Rangers.

Speaking of the Rangers, their starter this afternoon is a reliever: Matt Bush, who pitched a 1-2-3 top of the seventh Friday night, striking out Maikel Franco and Victor Robles, on 10 total pitches. Chris Woodward is going with a bullpen game, so don’t expect Bush to go more than maybe two innings tops before we see a steady parade of countless other bullpen arms.

Update: Turns out Bush won't start after all because he reported soreness following Friday's outing. So it'll be left-hander Brett Martin, who threw 1 2/3 innings less than 24 hours ago (though he needed only 10 pitches to do it) getting the ball first for Texas.

Globe Life Field

Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, FS1, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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Why the Nats now give young pitchers midseason breaks


ARLINGTON, Texas – Among the most pertinent questions facing the Nationals over the season’s final 3 1/2 months involve their top two pitching prospects. How soon will Cade Cavalli make his major league debut? And will Cole Henry make his in 2022?

The bad news: Neither is currently pitching for Triple-A Rochester, each having just been shut down for the moment, Henry while being placed on the minor league injured list with shoulder soreness.

The potentially good news: The Nats’ decision to shut both right-handers down now could be construed as evidence they intend to bring both up to the majors later this season.

How so? As general manager Mike Rizzo explained Friday afternoon, the organization is making a concerted effort to give its pitching prospects planned time off in the middle of the season in an attempt to ensure they still have fresh arms to be on the mound at the end of the season.

“You’ll see each starting pitcher will be skipped throughout the season; usually at the 10-start mark we try to skip a start or push a start back,” Rizzo said prior to Friday’s series opener against the Rangers. “That’s the situation with Cavalli, (Rodney) Theophile, (Jake) Irvin and those guys. They’ll get pushed back a start or two, just to give them a blow. No physical abnormalities there.”

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Bell's clutch hit rewards Nats' stellar pitching in 2-1 win (updated)


ARLINGTON, Texas – They can get all the quality pitching they want, which they did tonight from Paolo Espino and Co. The Nationals know it matters only if they can also get the kind of timely hitting that has eluded them too often this season, especially from the most important batters in their lineup.

So when those guys delivered tonight, when Juan Soto and Josh Bell combined to deliver the eighth-inning run that propelled the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the Rangers, it proved a cathartic moment for everyone in the visitors’ dugout, not the least of whom were those two big sluggers.

Soto’s 110-mph double off the wall in left-center ignited the winning rally, and Bell’s subsequent RBI single to center sealed the deal and capped off a nice homecoming for the big first baseman, who grew up in nearby Irving and did everything but homer during tonight’s win.

"It was cool, just knowing I had friends and family here," said Bell, who had 30 to 40 of them in attendance tonight and expects to have even more Saturday. "Friends that played baseball with me growing up. Being able to do this in front of them makes it all that much more special."

That eighth-inning sequence, desperately needed from a Nats lineup that has mostly been held in check all week, helped make the most out of a strong performance from the pitching staff.

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Nats waiting to finalize rehab plan for Strasburg

strasburg delivers blue

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Nationals have not yet finalized a full rehab plan for Stephen Strasburg but don’t feel an urgent need to devise one while the right-hander is in the early stages of rest from the stress reaction in his ribs that sent him back to the injured list 10 days ago.

General manager Mike Rizzo said he, the Nats’ medical staff, orthopedist Neal ElAttrache and Strasburg himself will jointly decide on a plan of action once they’ve gathered all information, “but we don’t have that yet.” Strasburg flew to Southern California last week to be examined by ElAttrache after an MRI taken in Washington revealed the stress reaction to his second and third ribs, likely connected to the thoracic outlet syndrome he dealt with last summer.

Because he can’t attempt to begin throwing or beginning a rehab program until that stress reaction heals, there isn’t much urgency to proceed with a larger plan for now.

“He can’t do anything until he’s pain-free and feeling good,” Rizzo said prior to tonight’s series opener against the Rangers. “He’s not there yet, so there’s no rush to put a plan together when he’s on rest now anyway.”

Strasburg’s rehab from last summer’s thoracic outlet surgery seemingly had gone quite well, with three minor league tune-up starts and then his return to a major league mound June 9 in Miami. Though he surrendered seven runs in 4 2/3 innings to the Marlins, Strasburg threw 83 pitches and was highly encouraged by how he felt physically during his first big league start in more than a year.

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Game 73 lineups: Nats at Rangers


ARLINGTON, Texas – Hello from Globe Life Field, the only active major league ballpark the Nationals have never previously visited (not to mention the only one your humble beat writer has never previously visited). For the first time in 17 years, the Nats face the Rangers on the road, and there are all kinds of connections to this matchup.

For example, Paolo Espino made six relief appearances for the Rangers in 2017, three years before making it back to the big leagues with the Nationals. The veteran right-hander gets the start tonight, his third since being added to the rotation. After throwing 89 pitches in five innings last week against the Phillies, Espino should be good to approach the 100-pitch mark tonight, making him a full-fledged starter.

Starting for the Rangers, meanwhile, is Dane Dunning, whose name may sound familiar. That’s because he was one of the Nationals’ first-round picks in the 2016 draft (along with Carter Kieboom) and then was included with fellow pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López in that winter’s blockbuster trade with the White Sox for Adam Eaton. Dunning has had a bit of a winding path since, undergoing Tommy John surgery in the minors, making his major league debut for Chicago in 2020 but then getting traded to Texas for Lance Lynn. He’s now an established member of the Rangers rotation, entering tonight’s start with a 1-5 record, 4.38 ERA and 1.329 WHIP in 14 outings.

And then of course we can’t ignore the biggest connection between these franchises. At the end of the 1971 season, Senators owner Bob Short moved the club here to Texas and renamed it the Rangers, a decision that still stirs up all kinds of emotion from longtime D.C. baseball fans. But let’s at least acknowledge this: If not for that move all those years ago, the 2019 World Series would not have been won by the Washington Nationals, right?

Globe Life Field

Gametime: 8:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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More than 17 years later, Nats finally return to Texas

Rangers Globe Life

On June 19, 2005, the first-place Nationals defeated the Rangers 8-2 thanks to a five-run rally in the top of the eighth highlighted by a bases-loaded double by Brad Wilkerson that scored Junior Spivey, Brian Schneider and Cristian Guzman. Sun-Woo Kim was the starting pitcher that afternoon, with Travis Hughes, Luis Ayala and Gary Majewski following him out of the bullpen. Alfonso Soriano went 3-for-4 in a losing effort as Texas’ starting second baseman.

Tonight, the Nationals return to Arlington (Texas, not Virginia) for the first time since then.

That’s right, would you believe it’s been 17 years since the Nats last played at the Rangers, the only time in club history they have done so?

How long ago was that? Ryan Zimmerman had only been drafted two weeks earlier and wouldn’t make his major league debut until that September, wearing No. 25 because Spivey still had claim to No. 11. It’s the only big league city Zimmerman never played in during his career.

It’s one of the strangest scheduling quirks in club history. The Nationals have made multiple visits to every other city over the last 17 years, and they’ve played at least once in every other city since 2014.

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