Deep bullpen performing exactly as hoped so far

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ATLANTA – It’s been a long time since a Nationals manager has had at least four relievers he trusts to pitch late in games. It really didn’t happen at any point during Davey Martinez’s first four seasons on the job. Dusty Baker at one point had the “Law Firm” bullpen of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, but that was a trio, not a quartet.

You may have to go all the way back to 2012 – when Davey Johnson could regularly count on Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus to pitch in meaningful situations – to find anything resembling the Nats’ current situation.

It’s early, yes. They’ve played only seven games. But the quartet that closed out Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Braves – Kyle Finnegan, Doolittle, Steve Cishek and Tanner Rainey – has quickly emerged into as reliable a relief corps as we’ve seen around here in a long time. And if Hunter Harvey’s eye-opening season debut Monday was a sign of things to come, and if Clippard is headed this way sometime soon once he finishes building his arm up at Triple-A Rochester, the Nationals might just have themselves the makings of a quality, deep bullpen.

“However we line up is going to be a really good combination,” Rainey said. “No matter what the matchups are, whoever gets in the game, honestly, with all nine, 10, 12, however many guys we’ve got down there, I think the bullpen’s been really good so far.”

It has. Though there were a couple of blow-ups during lopsided losses to the Mets and Braves, the relief corps for the most part has been quite effective, certainly when given an opportunity to take over in the sixth inning following a strong starting performance. In their three wins so far, the bullpen has allowed a total of two runs over 11 2/3 innings.

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Nats ride Gray and bullpen to series win in Atlanta

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ATLANTA – There are more than 5 1/2 months of baseball left to be played in 2022, and there’s still every reason to believe when this season is complete the Braves will be right there among the National League’s best while the rebuilding Nationals are looking up at a number of other clubs.

One series in mid-April does not change the outlook of either team’s chances this year. That doesn’t, however, mean the Nats can’t leave town this evening and fly to Pittsburgh feeling awfully good about themselves for what they just accomplished.

Shaking off a blowout loss Tuesday night, they bounced right back and won today’s finale 3-1, capturing the three-game series against the defending World Series champions and in the process establishing the formula for success they’ll try to mimic as much as possible over these next 5 1/2 months.

“I feel like it’s a confidence boost, right?” reliever Steve Cishek said. “You got a young team, and you take out the defending champs? I mean, their lineup is incredible. We threw the ball really well the first game and today. That’s a huge confidence boost for the young guys.”

The Nationals got a strong outing today from one of their young starters, with Josiah Gray tossing five scoreless innings, allowing only one hit. They got some early offense from an opportunistic lineup that jumped on Braves ace Max Fried. And then Davey Martinez handed over the final four innings to his four best relievers: Kyle Finnegan, Sean Doolittle, Cishek and Tanner Rainey.

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Cruz returns, Adrianza jogs, Strange-Gordon pitches

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ATLANTA – Less than an hour before today’s scheduled first pitch at Truist Park, Nelson Cruz was in shallow left field, stretching, exercising and testing out his tight groin with Nationals executive director of medical services Harvey Sharman. He didn’t know yet if he’d be playing this afternoon or not after sitting out Tuesday night’s game.

Then Cruz walked back to the visitors’ dugout, headed down to the batting tunnel underneath the stands, and some 15 minutes later the Nats put out their lineup. With Cruz batting third and serving as designated hitter.

“He came in, got treatment, said he felt better,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier in his office. “I want to get him in the cage, let him hit, see where we’re at. We haven’t posted a lineup yet because we’re waiting on him.”

Cruz wasn’t able to play Tuesday, telling Martinez before the game he “couldn’t get loose.” The manager immediately told the 41-year-old to get some treatment and see if he could feel well enough to pinch-hit later in the game. Once the Nationals were trailing by double-digits, there was no reason to take a chance, so Cruz never appeared.

He’s back in there today, though, for the sixth time in seven games to begin the season. And in the short time he’s been with the club, he’s established a trusting rapport with his skipper.

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Game 7 lineups: Nats at Braves

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ATLANTA – It doesn’t really mean much in the larger scheme, but in your mind, wouldn’t a 3-4 start to this season sound a whole lot better than a 2-5 start? Especially given the competition they’ve faced, if the Nationals emerge one game under .500 from this gantlet, you’d have to consider that a modest success, right?

Well, they have a chance to do just that this afternoon when they seek a series victory over the Braves in a matinee finale. They’ll obviously need to play a much better game than they did Tuesday night, when they were shellacked 16-4. But then again, they won the opener in convincing fashion, 11-2, so anything’s possible.

It’s a stiffer challenge today facing Braves ace Max Fried, though the lefty struggled on opening day, giving up five earned runs and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings to the Reds. He actually faced the Nationals six times last season, going 3-1 with a 4.08 ERA.

Josiah Gray starts for the Nats, who could certainly use some quality innings from the right-hander. The good news: The entire A bullpen is available, none of them having needed to pitch in either of the first two games of this series.

Nelson Cruz is back in the starting lineup after being scratched from last night's game with groin tightness. The slugger is batting third as the designated hitter.

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Soto appreciates significance of 100th career homer

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ATLANTA – On an otherwise dreadful Tuesday night for the Nationals, Juan Soto reminded everyone why every at-bat he takes, no matter the score at the time, remains must-see TV.

 

In the top of the sixth, with his team well on its way to a 16-4 drubbing at the hands of the Braves, Soto stepped to the plate against rookie right-hander Bryce Elder and proceeded to launch a baseball 451 feet to right-center field, nearly reaching the top of the stands at Truist Park.

 

The home run not only was majestic. It was historic, the 100th homer of Soto’s young career.

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Corbin roughed up again by Braves in ugly loss

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ATLANTA – It’s two starts during the first week of a season that opened on the heels of a condensed spring training. Nobody’s about to draw any definitive conclusions about someone just yet based on such a small sample under these circumstances.

But on the heels of a bad 2020 season, then an even worse 2021 season, the fact this question already has to be raised is beyond discouraging: What do the Nationals do with Patrick Corbin?

The question already is being asked because Corbin faded in the fourth and fifth innings on opening night against the Mets, then was absolutely ransacked by the Braves tonight during a 16-4 beatdown that included every manner of embarrassment for the visitors (aside from Juan Soto mashing a baseball 451 feet to right-center for the 100th home run of his career).

Getting shut down by an opposing starter making his major league debut? Check.

Watching middle relievers take what still could’ve been a competitive game and turn it into a rout? Check.

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Rogers will get another start, Cruz scratched from lineup

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ATLANTA – Not that there was any reason to question it following Monday night’s performance, but Josh Rogers will remain in the Nationals rotation for the time being, lined up to make another start this weekend in Pittsburgh.

Summoned from Triple-A Rochester to take the No. 5 spot in the Nats rotation after Aníbal Sánchez came down with a neck injury prior to opening day, Rogers put together the best outing by any of the club’s starters to date, holding the Braves to one run on two hits over 5 1/3 innings and setting the tone for what became an 11-2 blowout victory.

Sánchez, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with a cervical nerve impingement, won’t be eligible to return until April 18. So that leaves the Nationals needing someone to take his next turn through the rotation, which should be Saturday night against the Pirates.

“I don’t think (Sánchez) will be ready at all for his next start,” manager Davey Martinez said. “As of right now, Josh will start in his place.”

Sánchez, who is traveling with the team on this road trip, began some simulated throwing today and could be back throwing a ball as soon as Wednesday. There’s no timetable yet for his return, but the 38-year-old will need to build his arm back up once he’s cleared.

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Game 6 lineups: Nats at Braves

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ATLANTA – If you had to venture a guess which of these two teams’ pitching staffs is on the ropes entering tonight’s game, how many of you would just assume it’s the Nationals? Well, you’d be wrong. The Nats got a strong start Monday night from Josh Rogers and didn’t have to use up their A bullpen. The Braves, meanwhile, had to use up both of their potential candidates to start tonight’s game in long relief during the 11-2 blowout: Spencer Strider and Tucker Davidson.

That means Atlanta didn’t have anyone on the current staff to start tonight. So the club has called up Bryce Elder from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his major league debut. Elder, 22, was the Braves’ fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft (the same one in which the Nationals selected Cade Cavalli in the first round). It’s a fast track to the big leagues for the right-hander, but he went 11-5 with a 2.75 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 137 2/3 innings across three minor league affiliates last year.

The Nationals, on the other hand, have opening day starter Patrick Corbin back on the mound for his second outing of the season. Corbin looked quite good for three innings against the Mets on Thursday before faltering in the fourth and fifth. You’d hope he can keep up the stamina a little longer tonight, though he’s facing a Braves lineup that did plenty of damage against him last season: Corbin lost all three of his head-to-head starts with an unsightly 8.44 ERA.

As promised, Davey Martinez has Victor Robles back in the lineup after the center fielder got Monday’s series opener off. Lane Thomas, though, is on the bench despite a solid night at the plate, leaving left field open for Yadiel Hernandez, who has swung a good bat so far himself. And Lucius Fox, one of Sunday’s heroes, is back in the lineup at shortstop in place of Alcides Escobar (who is 1-for-15 with an unsightly seven strikeouts).

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Truist Park
Gametime: 7:20 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees, wind 9 mph in from right field

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Surprise news from Lerners creates plenty of new questions

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ATLANTA – Davey Martinez’s phone rang Monday morning. It was Mark Lerner calling. Calling to tell the manager of the Nationals he and his family are beginning to explore the possibility of bringing on new investors to own the franchise or potentially even sell it altogether.

“To say the least, I was shocked,” Martinez said.

He certainly wasn't alone in that regard. Across the board Monday, from Nationals employees to coaches to players to anyone else who has even modest interest in the team, the news first reported by the Washington Post was shocking. Very few saw it coming.

Who had even stopped to consider the Lerner family, which purchased the franchise from Major League Baseball in 2006, might have any interest in selling it to someone else? Nobody in the organization had ever so much as suggested the possibility over the last 16 years.

The Lerners are from Washington, born and bred. They won out on an intense bidding contest to purchase the former Montreal Expos in large part because of their local connections and family business structure, two qualities that particularly stood out to former MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

How, then, did we get here all of a sudden?

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Rogers throttles Braves, offense explodes for 11-2 rout of Braves

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ATLANTA – Six nights ago, the Nationals packed up all their belongings in West Palm Beach, Fla., and took their bus to the airport, ready to head north for opening day in D.C. One player remained in the complex at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches: Josh Rogers, who only a short while earlier learned he hadn’t made the club and now needed to get to Toledo to join Triple-A Rochester’s roster.

The demotion caught Rogers, and plenty of others around the organization, by surprise. Rogers himself was admittedly mad about the decision. But manager Davey Martinez told the left-hander he’d be the first starter called up if one was needed, so he needed to make sure he was ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“I think I would be lying if I said I wasn’t mad or down,” Rogers said. “I’m competitive and wanted to make the team, just like everybody else. It is what it is. Just take it and go to Triple-A and just do what I do and have a good attitude and turn the page. I was mad for 12 hours, then wake up the next day and it’s all about the process, and it’s part of it.”

How fitting was it, then, when only six nights later Rogers walked off the mound at Truist Park with one out in the bottom of the sixth, having just completed the best start by a member of the Nationals rotation to date, helping lead his team to an 11-2 rout of the Braves on the night they gave out replica World Series rings to a sellout crowd of 42,263.

Summoned from Rochester to replace the injured Aníbal Sánchez, Rogers didn’t sulk over his brief demotion. Instead he showed up to the park this afternoon full of his usual energy, then took the mound and rocked and rolled his way through 5 1/3 innings of two-hit ball against one of the toughest lineups in the league.

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Sánchez's return uncertain, Robles not in lineup again

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ATLANTA – Despite an at-times ragged performance this spring, Aníbal Sánchez made the Nationals’ opening day rotation. The club even put the 38-year-old, who signed a minor league deal right as camp was opening, on the 40-man roster.

Five days later, Sánchez is on the 10-day injured list before ever taking the mound for the Nats.

Unable to overcome the stiff neck that had been bothering him since he came north with his teammates on the charter flight from West Palm Beach last week, Sánchez couldn’t heal in time to start the season’s fifth game. So the Nationals today placed him on the IL with a cervical nerve impingement in his neck and recalled Josh Rogers from Triple-A Rochester to start tonight’s game against the Braves.

“It’s still bothering him a little bit, but it’s getting better every day,” manager Davey Martinez said. “With that being said, I saw him today and he’s still moving very gingerly. But he does say he feels better. He’s going to get treatment. Knowing Aníbal, he’s itching to get back out there and start throwing. But we want to make sure he’s healthy before he even attempts to start throwing.”

Martinez didn’t offer up a timetable for Sánchez’s return, but if it drags on at all, he may need to take extra time to build his arm back up after he reached the 90-pitch mark in his final spring outing before opening day.

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Game 5 lineups: Nats at Braves

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ATLANTA – Hello from Truist Park here in unincorporated Cobb County, home of the 2021 World Series champions. The Nationals have arrived for their first road trip of the season, with three games coming up against the Braves before they head to Pittsburgh for four games this weekend.

They’ll open this series with Josh Rogers on the mound, not Aníbal Sánchez. Sánchez was officially placed on the 10-day injured list today with a cervical nerve impingement in his neck. We’ll find out shortly how severe that is and how long he might be out. Rogers, meanwhile, makes his season debut after getting optioned to Triple-A Rochester on the final day of spring training but never actually pitching for the Red Wings. It’s a tough assignment for the lefty, who is facing a very good Braves lineup.

The Nationals lineup includes Lane Thomas in center field for the first time this season, with Victor Robles on the bench for the second time in five games. Yadiel Hernandez, who has made solid contact and sparked Sunday’s game-winning rally with a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth, gets the start in left field.

All of those guys will be going up against Atlanta No. 5 starter Huascar Ynoa, who you may best remember as one of the two opposing pitchers to hit a grand slam off the Nats last year. Good times.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Truist Park
Gametime: 7:20 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Cloudy, 66 degrees, wind 8 mph in from right field

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Fox energizes Nationals Park during dramatic debut

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Lucius Fox found out around 11:30 p.m. Saturday he’d be in the Nationals’ starting lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the Mets. The 24-year-old shortstop would be making his major league debut.

And thus began a long night and long morning of thoughts racing through Fox’s mind.

“I probably played the game in my head three times last night and this morning,” he said. “Waking up at 6 a.m., thinking I’m late to the field. Then 7 a.m., thinking I’m late. I was going through different situations. But I just trust that my work and my preparation, that I would be prepared for any task that came to me today. I was really excited. Kind of butterflies. But just happy we got the win.”

The Nationals got the 4-2 win, thanks in large part to Fox’s eighth-inning safety squeeze. His perfectly placed bunt down the first base line brought Dee Strange-Gordon home from third with the tying run, ultimately setting the stage for Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead, two-run single later in the inning.

It was a scintillating way for Fox to endear himself to Nationals Park, which erupted as he raced down the line while Strange-Gordon slid across the plate.

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Nats finally rally late, beat Mets to avoid sweep

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For the better part of 72 hours, the Nationals waited to be in this position. In a tight game late, runners on base, hitters at the plate with a chance to do something big and secure the team’s first win of 2022.

And when it finally happened, it was every bit as cathartic as you’d imagine.

Down a run to the Mets in the bottom of the eighth and unable to generate any offense since the bottom of the first, the Nats stormed back in dramatic fashion. Dee Strange-Gordon scored on Lucius Fox’s safety squeeze to tie the game, then Nelson Cruz delivered the two-out, two-run single that propelled Washington to a 4-2 victory to end a frustrating opening weekend on a decidedly upbeat note.

“I’m proud of the way those guys went out today,” manager Davey Martinez said. “They didn’t quit, they kept playing hard. I think they had this thing where they really felt like they were going to win the game, and they were pushing.”

A lineup that had been stuck in neutral through the season’s first three-plus games came to life just in the nick of time. Singles by Yadiel Hernandez and Maikel Franco put runners on the corners with nobody out in the eighth, then Fox (making his major league debut) put down a perfect bunt along the first base line and celebrated as Strange-Gordon (who was pinch-running for Hernandez) narrowly slid in ahead of catcher Tomás Nido’s tag.

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Thompson to IL, Harvey called up, Sanchez doubtful Monday

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The Nationals made one roster move prior to today’s series finale against the Mets, and it looks like they’ll be making another prior to Monday’s series opener against the Braves.

Mason Thompson was placed on the 10-day injured list this morning with what for now is being called a right biceps strain until MRI results come in. He’s replaced in the bullpen by Hunter Harvey, who was called up from Triple-A Rochester and is available to pitch today after an all-night drive from Toledo, Ohio.

Meanwhile, Aníbal Sánchez is “doubtful” to make his scheduled start Monday in Atlanta, according to manager Davey Martinez, who said the club likely will call someone up to take that spot. Left-hander Josh Rogers, who was optioned to Rochester on the final day of spring training but has yet to pitch, appears to be the likeliest candidate.

Neither represents the kind of development the Nationals wanted only three games into a season that has begun with three straight losses to New York.

Thompson threw only three pitches in the top of the eighth before departing with director of athletic training Paul Lessard. The initial diagnosis on the right-hander was a right biceps strain, but the team is somewhat concerned this morning’s MRI could reveal a more serious injury.

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Game 4 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

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If you could draw up a worst-case scenario for the Nationals to open the 2022 season, this has been pretty close to it: Three straight losses to the Mets, with zero starting pitchers able to complete five innings, a lineup that hasn’t done much and a couple of pitchers injured.

Perhaps the tide will begin to turn today, though, in the series finale, on what promises to be a cold, gray, windy afternoon on South Capitol Street.

The pressure’s on Erick Fedde to do what the three starters who pitched before him could not do and complete at least five innings, ideally six, and take some pressure off the bullpen. If he can keep the Nats in the game, Davey Martinez can then utilize his best relievers late in the game in meaningful situations. That’s the hope, at least.

The lineup also will need to start stringing together some hits, especially Nelson Cruz and the bottom of half of Martinez’s batting order, which has been abysmal so far. They’ll all be facing Mets right-hander Carlos Carrasco, returning from a difficult 2021 season.

After Mason Thompson’s abrupt exit from last night’s game, the Nats have placed him on the 10-day disabled list with a right biceps strain. They’ve recalled reliever Hunter Harvey to fill his roster spot.

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Wild ride, strong showing for Doolittle in season debut

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Since making the decision to sign last month, Sean Doolittle had been imagining what his first relief appearance back with the Nationals would be like.

But was this the scenario he envisioned, replacing ejected teammate Steve Cishek moments after both benches and bullpens emptied in the top of the fifth Friday night?

“Uh, no. I don’t know if you could envision that scenario,” the left-hander said with a laugh Saturday as he recalled the scene. “That was crazy.”

That’s an understatement. Doolittle was already warming in the bullpen when Cishek entered to face Francisco Lindor. He watched from afar as Cishek’s second pitch came up and in and struck Lindor near the face, then as the Mets dugout spilled onto the field in anger and the Nationals dugout followed suit.

The next thing he knew, Doolittle and his bullpen mates were running all the way in to join the not-really-a-brawl. Then as tempers were calming down, bullpen coach Ricky Bones told him to get back to the bullpen ASAP because he might need to enter to pitch if Cishek was getting ejected.

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Nats shut out by Mets, fall to 0-3

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This opening week to a lockout-delayed season always loomed as a daunting first act for the 2022 Nationals. Four games with the $290-million Mets, then three games with the defending champion Braves is not the kind of schedule designed to boost the morale of a rebuilding ballclub and its reluctant fan base.

And three games in, this is pretty much going exactly as everyone feared it would.

Back-to-back losses on opening night and then in Max Scherzer’s return to D.C. were followed up tonight with a tepid 5-0 loss in which every run prior to the ninth inning crossed the plate on one swing of Pete Alonso’s bat.

Alonso’s fifth-inning grand slam off Joan Adon ended the night for the Nationals rookie right-hander, one that included some encouraging signs but also some reminders that the 23-year-old still has a long way to go.

“I think he threw the ball pretty good, besides that inning,” designated hiter Nelson Cruz said. “He was in command. They’ve got a pretty good lineup over there, too.”

The grand slam might not have meant so much had the Nats lineup mounted even a semblance of a rally against Chris Bassitt and the Mets bullpen. But that never materialized.

The Nationals pitching staff figured to be a problem area from the get-go all along. The batting order, though, looked on paper to be at least respectable, thanks to the big bats that reside on the top half of Davey Martinez’s lineup card.

That has not proven true so far. Juan Soto and Josh Bell each have homered, and Yadiel Hernandez delivered a sacrifice fly Friday night. But that represents the entirety of the Nats offense through 27 innings.

The bottom half of the lineup has been a black hole: The sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth hitters are a collective 1-for-37 with 18 strikeouts.

There’s also a gaping hole in the No. 3 spot right now: Cruz is 1-for-12 with three strikeouts and eight groundouts.

As a result, the Nationals are 0-3 for the first time since 2009, a season that ended with a club record 103 losses.

“You just have to stay positive,” Cruz said. “It’s part of the game. If we’re talking about the middle of the season, we’re not talking about this. Because it’s the first three games, yeah we’ve definitely got to talk about it. We trust what we have. We believe in each other. And we should be fine. We’re going to be fine.”

That Adon made the opening day rotation was surprising enough. That he got the ball for the third game of the season wasn’t predicted by anyone. But minor ailments for Erick Fedde and Aníbal Sánchez over the last week-plus opened the door, and Martinez decided to thrust the kid into the spotlight tonight.

Adon didn’t look particularly fazed by the assignment, much as he looked perfectly comfortable making his major league debut against the Red Sox on the final day of the 2021 season. But it was clear the 23-year-old is still very much a work in progress.

Adon posted four consecutive zeros to begin his night, but it took a good amount of work on his part to get there. He needed 21 pitches to complete the first inning, then 22 to complete the second. He turned efficient for a little while after that, getting through the fourth with his total pitch count a more manageable 61. But now he faced the dreaded fifth inning, the inning that was the undoing of his two rotation mates the previous two nights.

“The starting pitching, we’ve got to go deeper in games,” Martinez said. “Three days now, we couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. … I’m looking at the second and third time through the order, and you’re trying to be a little more precise. For me, you’ve got to just keep making your pitches and attack the strike zone.”

Whether it was his increased pitch count, the prospect of facing the Mets lineup a third time or something entirely else, Adon’s downfall was swift. He gave up a leadoff single to James McCann, walked Brandon Nimmo, allowed both runners to advance on a wild pitch, then walked Francisco Lindor.

Up stepped Alonso, the Mets’ most feared power hitter, with the bases loaded in a still-scoreless game. Adon’s pitch count was 82. Austin Voth was warming in the bullpen. Four pitches later, Alonso was circling the bases following his moonshot grand slam to left, Martinez was walking to the mound to take the ball from Adon and Voth was making his way in from the bullpen.

"I was just trying to go and locate the pitch outside, repeat the same pitch I threw on the previous one,” Adon said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “Just missed a little bit and it ran over the plate."

Unlike the previous two nights, the Nationals bullpen didn’t let New York do much to extend its lead. Voth, Kyle Finnegan and Tanner Rainey each posted zeros to keep the deficit at 4-0. Andres Machado did give up a tack-on run in the ninth, his second inning of work after he had to replace an injured Mason Thompson three pitches into the eighth.

Thompson was suffering from a right biceps issue, according to Martinez, who said an MRI is scheduled Sunday for the reliever.

But it all made little difference given a Nats lineup that couldn’t do anything against Bassitt, continuing a disturbing early-season trend.

“It’s early. It’s cold,” Martinez said. “But we’ve got to get the ball in the zone. We’re taking too many early strikes, and then starting to chase. We need to be a little more aggressive in the strike zone, and just be ready to hit.”

 

Sánchez's status for Monday uncertain due to stiff neck

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Aníbal Sánchez is still dealing with a stiff neck and may not be able to make his scheduled season debut Monday, leaving the Nationals potentially scrambling for a replacement starter for their series opener in Atlanta.

Sánchez first reported his neck issue the morning after flying home with the team from spring training. Initially on track to serve as the Nats’ No. 3 starter to begin the season, he had his outing pushed back to the fifth and final slot in the rotation to give him more time to heal.

But when the 38-year-old continued to report neck issues after a throwing session Friday, the club realized it may need to start working on a backup plan.

“He’s still stiff,” manager Davey Martinez said this afternoon. “So Monday will be TBD right now.”

It’s possible Sánchez could recover in time and pitch as planned, but it sounds like that recovery would need to happen in short order. In the meantime, the Nationals need to formulate another plan.

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Game 3 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

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The pomp and circumstance of opening night is behind us. The hubbub of Max Scherzer’s return to Nationals Park is also now behind us. Tonight, the real grind of the season begins with Game 3 of 162.

The Nats would certainly like to get their first win of the year sooner rather than later. To make it happen tonight, they’ll need a better performance from their starting pitcher than the four-plus innings they got from Patrick Corbin and Josiah Gray the last two nights. It’s a lot to ask of Joan Adon in his second career start, but the 23-year-old hasn’t looked fazed by anything thrown at him to date.

Some sustained offense would also be nice from the Nationals lineup, which managed only one run on opening night and then couldn’t plate a run off the Mets bullpen after scoring three off Scherzer on Friday night. Everyone will be getting a first look at new New York starter Chris Bassitt, an All-Star last year with the Athletics. Six current Nationals have faced Bassitt before, but only Nelson Cruz, Alcides Escobar and Dee Strange-Gordon have more than three career plate appearances against him.

As you may have heard, the Nats are debuting their “City Connect” cherry blossom uniforms tonight. They’ll wear them again Sunday.

NEW YORK METS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB Network (outside D.C. market), MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 53 degrees, wind 8 mph out to right field

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