Young rises to occasion in first big moment for Nats

Call, Young, Thomas

TORONTO – Jacob Young veered slightly in and slightly to his right, calling off his left fielder to catch Daulton Varsho’s fairly routine fly ball to center for the second out of the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night, looked up and saw Alejandro Kirk take off from third and came to a quick conclusion.

“There’s no one else on base,” he said. “So you can kind of let it fly.”

And let it fly he did. Standing 297 feet from the plate at the time he made the catch, Young fired a perfect strike to catcher Keibert Ruiz, who hauled it in and tagged the unsuspecting Kirk a split-second before his foot crossed the plate, all the while making sure not to block the runner’s path and risk getting called for obstruction.

Thus did the Nationals pull off a thrilling 8-2 double play to end the eighth with a two-run lead intact, the emotional high point of a 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays that also included a dramatic ninth-inning escape by closer Kyle Finnegan.

The ninth-inning jam made for the most harrowing moment of the night, but Young’s throw one inning prior was the moment everyone in the visitors’ clubhouse at Rogers Centre most wanted to talk about afterward.

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Kids come up big in win over Blue Jays (updated)

Keibert Ruiz swing blue away

TORONTO – While they’re certainly doing everything they can to try to keep winning as many games as they can, the Nationals are still using the final month-plus of this ever-encouraging season to evaluate young players who could (or already do) fit into the long-term plan around here.

When both sides of the equation come together like they did tonight in a tense, 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays, it’s a win-win for the organization.

"We're playing the best ball we've been playing all season," said closer Kyle Finnegan, who survived a harrowing bottom of the ninth. "For the young guys to be a part of it, and to see they can contribute to a playoff-type atmosphere, is great for them."

The Nationals not only bounced back from rare back-to-back losses and gave themselves a shot at a sixth consecutive series victory Wednesday afternoon. They did so thanks to the contributions of young players, two of them key pieces to the rebuild, one of them a surprising potential addition to the list after he seemingly had been written off, the other a recent call-up who made his presence known tonight with a big-time moment in the field.

MacKenzie Gore overcame a laborious first few innings to finish strong, allowing just one run over five innings to emerge with the win. Keibert Ruiz’s three-run homer proved the difference. Carter Kieboom’s two-run homer added another chapter to the third baseman’s growing comeback campaign. And Jacob Young’s 300-foot strike from center field to the plate completed a brilliant double play to end an eighth inning that was about to turn south on the Nats.

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Alu embracing daily change of positions

Jake Alu infield blue away

TORONTO – Jake Alu tries not to stress about it. He knows when he arrives at the ballpark on any given day, he could be playing any one of three different positions on the field. Or not be playing at all. At this point, there’s no sense overanalyzing it.

“I don’t really think about that too much,” he said. “It’s more like: Whatever I am that day, just go out there and get it done.”

That’s exactly the kind of attitude that has convinced the Nationals to use Alu as a true utilityman despite his extremely limited amount of big league experience. These kinds of jobs are usually reserved for veterans who already know how to succeed in the majors, not rookies with barely one month of service time.

Alu, though, has taken well to his unusual assignment. Tonight, he makes his eighth start of the season in left field, one night after he made his 12th start at second base, having also played in three games at third base.

“You’ve got to embrace it,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And he’s done it really well.”

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Game 133 lineups: Nats at Blue Jays

Gore @ CHC

TORONTO – The Nationals have won five series in a row. They had also won three series openers in a row before dropping Monday night’s game to the Blue Jays. And they haven’t lost three games in a row since early July, when they were swept in a four-game series by the Reds and then lost the following day to the Rangers before embarking on this current 27-17 run.

So this has surprisingly become unfamiliar territory for the Nats, looking to bounce back and recapture control of a series. They’ll attempt to do that tonight, looking to take an early lead on José Berríos and then get a quality start out of MacKenzie Gore.

Gore was not good in his last outing, surrendering a pair of homers (including a grand slam) to Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium and departing after 80 pitches in four innings. He was hurt by his defense that night, but he didn’t pick up his teammates when he had the chance. And he expects more of himself.

Though they needed to use four relievers to cover six innings Monday, the Nationals bullpen should be in decent shape if Gore can go at least five innings, preferably six. Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey and Mason Thompson are all fresh, with Finnegan having not pitched since Saturday and Harvey having been off since Friday. 

Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 7:07 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Partly cloudy, 69 degrees, wind 8 mph out to center field

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Meneses embraces role as Nats' top run producer

Joey Meneses blue jersey

TORONTO – Early this season, when the prospect of hitting a home run felt like the toughest challenge in the world, Joey Meneses tried to remember there were other ways to be a productive offensive player.

“We talked a lot the beginning of the year about him wanting to hit more home runs,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “But I told him: ‘Look, you’re driving in runs, and that’s really important. The home runs will come.’ Which they did. But more so than that, he’s become that clutch RBI guy for us.”

The homers did come in a brief spurt earlier this summer, with Meneses hitting nine of his 11 in a 26-game span from July 7-Aug. 8. But for the most part, the 31-year-old designated hitter has needed to turn to a different skill to feel like he’s fully contributing to the team’s cause: Driving runners in from scoring position.

Meneses continues to excel in that department, and he was up to his old tricks again Monday night, delivering an RBI single in the first and a two-run double in the fifth to account for all of the Nats’ runs during a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

Those were the Nationals’ only two hits in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a frustrating fact about a frustrating loss. But it was merely a continuation of the job Meneses has been doing all season, even when he’s not hitting for power.

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Nats can't overcome Gray's early exit, lose to Jays (updated)

gray pitches blue

TORONTO – It would be one thing if this dud of a start from Josiah Gray came out of nowhere, if it was a surprising blip on an otherwise clean radar and could be brushed off as simply a bad night.

Unfortunately, this felt more like the inevitable low point of a bad month for the Nationals’ young right-hander, who lasted only two innings while allowing four runs and digging his team into an early hole it could not escape during an eventual 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

Unable to find the strike zone with any consistency, and unable to pitch his way out of jams the way he did earlier this season, Gray wasn’t even given the opportunity to try to right his ship this time. Davey Martinez turned to his bullpen early in hopes of keeping the game close.

"I just didn't have it today," Gray said. "I feel for the guys in the bullpen. Having to cover six innings is never easy. I just feel for those guys. Obviously, want to continue to throw the ball out there and keep the team somewhat in the game. But I just didn't have it today."

The bullpen did keep the deficit within striking distance. The Nats lineup, though, couldn’t make the most of early scoring opportunities against Kevin Gausman, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and then getting shut down completely by the Toronto bullpen.

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Millas joins active roster, giving Nats three catchers

martinez w ipad dugout

TORONTO – Drew Millas was on the trainer’s table in Rochester, getting ready for Thursday’s game, when Nationals director of player development De Jon Watson called with a quick question: “Do you have your passport with you?”

Millas affirmed he did, then Watson hung up, leaving the Triple-A catcher wondering what that was all about.

He would get the news a short while later: The Nats wanted Millas to meet them in Miami in case they needed to add him to the active roster, and then to continue with them to Toronto after that. Hence the passport question.

So tonight, the 25-year-old found himself in the visitors’ clubhouse at Rogers Centre, a No. 81 jersey waiting for him as he makes his major league debut. The Nationals officially purchased his contract, optioning outfielder Blake Rutherford to Rochester and transferring reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to the 60-day injured list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the rookie catcher.

For Millas, who hit a robust .342 at Double-A Harrisburg to begin the season and earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he produced a .766 OPS, this is the culmination of a long and rewarding trek.

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Game 132 lineups: Nats at Blue Jays

Keibert Ruiz blue salute

TORONTO – Hello from Rogers Centre, up here north of the border. The Nationals are making their first trip to Canada since 2018, having technically played road games against the Blue Jays in both 2020 and 2021 even though both series were played at alternate sites due to COVID travel restrictions (2020 at Nationals Park, 2021 in Dunedin, Fla.).

This is the final leg of a four-city trip for the Nats that began eight long days ago in Williamsport, Pa., then continued to New York and Miami. They’ve gone 5-2 so far, so even if they got swept here they’d still head home with a .500 record. Not that anyone wants that to be the outcome.

You would think the Nationals will need to score a few more runs than they did in Miami, because Toronto’s lineup is more potent. The Nats have Keibert Ruiz back in the lineup, batting cleanup and catching for the first time since Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. They’ve also got three catchers on the roster for the first time this season, officially promoting Drew Millas from Triple-A Rochester.

Josiah Gray gets the start, hoping for similar success to that he had at Yankee Stadium (one run, one hit) while being a bit more efficient (five walks). Gray will need to avoid hard contact, because the ball flies here at Rogers Centre.

Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 7:07 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Clear, 68 degrees, wind 3 mph out to left field

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Nats finding ways to score runs despite ever-changing lineup

Alex Call HR vs. NYY

NEW YORK – That the Nationals keep winning is remarkable enough. That they keep doing it despite fielding some patchwork lineups in recent days is all the more stunning.

Consider the group Davey Martinez put out there Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. With Stone Garrett on his way back to Washington with a fractured left fibula, and with Keibert Ruiz scratched because he felt lightheaded after taking a foul tip off his catcher’s mask the previous night, the Nats lineup didn’t exactly stand out on paper.

After the typical 1-2-3 trio of CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses, they had a 4-5-6 of Dominic Smith, Carter Kieboom and Ildemaro Vargas. Then a 7-8-9 of Riley Adams, Jake Alu and Alex Call. Not exactly the Bronx Bombers there.

Yet look at the end result and try to find fault with it. The Nationals scored six runs on nine hits, getting back-to-back homers from Call and Abrams in the top of the seventh and clutch hits from Kieboom and Alu.

This is how things have been going for a while now, though. Even when they lose productive hitters, the Nats keep finding ways to produce at the plate.

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On emotional day, Nats storm back to beat Yankees (updated)

Alex Call blue

NEW YORK – As he watched one of his team’s most popular current players fracture his leg Wednesday night and then learned one of the icons of the franchise’s previous generation had finalized plans today to announce his retirement, Davey Martinez tried to stick with the mantra that has defined his six-year tenure as Nationals manager: "Just go 1-0 today."

It’s easy to preach, but much harder to actually do in reality. But on this day, Martinez’s young and growing team found a way to live up to his mantra. With a furious seventh-inning rally that featured several clutch hits from potential future core players, the Nats came back to beat the Yankees, 6-5, and win yet another series.

"I can tell you this team has become one unit," Martinez said before the game. "They play with a lot of heart, with a lot of passion. They're starting to understand how to play for one another, which is great."

Never was that more evident on this getaway afternoon. During Wednesday night’s blowout loss, the Nationals saw outfielder Stone Garrett fracture his left fibula, carted off the field in tears. Then as today’s game was playing out, word came down Stephen Strasburg had made the decision to announce his retirement during the team’s next homestand.

If ever a group had reason for a letdown performance, this was it. But after digging themselves into an early 3-1 hole via Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres homers off Patrick Corbin, the Nats fought back late to re-take the lead.

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Source: Strasburg to announce retirement (updated)

Strasburg blue

NEW YORK – What had sadly become obvious earlier this year is now becoming reality: Stephen Strasburg will be forced to retire from the Nationals, unable to recover from his 2021 thoracic outlet surgery enough to pitch again in a major league game.

The Nationals are not publicly announcing anything yet, but a source confirmed the decision has been made and there are plans for Strasburg to hold a press conference at Nationals Park during the team’s next homestand. The Washington Post first reported the news.

"For Strasburg and his family, I'm not going to make any comments about what's going on," manager Davey Martinez said, fighting tears following his team's 6-5 win over the Yankees this afternoon. "What I do know is that he means a lot to me and this organization, and the fans. I'll just keep it at that."

It had become clear earlier this year Strasburg was not going to be able to make a full recovery after several attempts to rehab from the July 2021 surgery that derailed his career. He made one start in Miami in June 2022 but could not avoid another trip to the injured list, and one final attempt to come back this spring was cut short due to continued pain and discomfort in his arm, neck and shoulder.

Because he still has three years remaining on the seven-year, $245 million contract he signed after the 2019 World Series, Strasburg needed to work out some kind of financial arrangement with the Nationals. In voluntarily retiring, the 35-year-old would normally forfeit any money still owed to him. Sources familiar with the situation said negotiations had been taking place for months, delaying the final resolution until now.

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Garrett heading back to D.C. with fractured fibula

Stone Garrett injury blue

NEW YORK – Stone Garrett has a fractured left fibula and is headed back to Washington for further tests and potentially surgery, though the Nationals are cautiously optimistic the outfielder’s injury is not as bad as it initially appeared Wednesday night.

The Nats placed Garrett on the 10-day IL today and recalled infielder Jeter Downs from Triple-A Rochester to take his roster spot. That’s not an indication he’s expected to return soon, though. Teams rarely place an injured player immediately on the 60-day IL, saving that transaction until they need to clear a 40-man roster spot for someone else.

Garrett hurt himself trying to make a leaping catch of DJ LeMahieu’s seventh-inning homer to right field, his left foot getting caught in the padded wall as he tried to climb it. He fell to the ground and writhed in pain until manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard could get to him.

After a seven-minute delay, Garrett was helped to a nearby cart, an air cast placed around his left leg. He got X-rays at Yankee Stadium and was still at the ballpark after the game, assisted by Lessard as he showered and got dressed, then greeted by teammates and others who offered words of support.

Garrett is now on his way back to D.C., where lead team physician Robert Najarian will administer more tests, including an MRI, to determine the extent of the fracture and possibly perform surgery. The initial indication was that the injury was limited to his lower leg, not his ankle or knee.

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Game 128 lineups: Nats at Yankees

Dominic Smith gray

NEW YORK – After a difficult Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Nationals are right back here for their series finale, hoping there’s at least some encouraging news about Stone Garrett and focused on trying to win the rubber game of the series.

Garrett was officially placed on the 10-day injured list with a fractured left fibula, so the Nationals replaced him on the active roster with infielder Jeter Downs, who was recalled from Triple-A Rochester only three days after he was sent down to allow Carter Kieboom to remain here in the big leagues. That does leave them with only three true outfielders (Lane Thomas, Alex Call, Blake Rutherford) but Ildemaro Vargas, Jake Alu, Michael Chavis and even Downs can play out there if needed.

The Nats need to do more at the plate than they’ve done so far this week. Since that four-run outburst in the first inning in Williamsport on Sunday night, they’ve scored a total of three runs, each of those via solo homers. Some more sustained offense would be a big help, especially on a day when the Yankees are throwing a bullpen game, with right-hander Michael King set to pitch first.

Patrick Corbin gets the start for the Nationals, facing another American League team. He’s been notably better in interleague games this season, going 6-3 with a 4.03 ERA. And he’s been great in his last three such starts, going 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA against the Mariners, Rangers and Red Sox. It’ll be fascinating to see if that trend continues today against what had been an awfully weak Yankees lineup before Wednesday night’s nine-run explosion.

Where: Yankee Stadium
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Chance of rain, 71 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

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Garrett suffers potentially serious leg injury in blowout loss (updated)


NEW YORK – What was already the Nationals’ worst night in weeks, strictly from a performance standpoint, turned worse in the bottom of the seventh at Yankee Stadium.

A 9-1 loss to New York included a disastrous second inning for MacKenzie Gore and a defense behind him that was tough to watch, but that paled in comparison to the sight of Stone Garrett being carted off the field in tears after suffering what appeared to be a serious lower left leg injury.

The Nationals, who had won 20 of their last 30 and were trying to deal the Yankees their first 10-game losing streak in 110 years, were far more distraught about their young outfielder, whose promising season may have come to a devastating conclusion as he tried to make a spectacular catch to rob DJ LeMahieu of a homer that barely cleared the fence in right.

"Just one of those situations ... just sucks to see ... praying for him," Gore, one of Garrett's closest friends on the team, said as he unsuccessfully tried to hold back tears, needing to step away for a minute to compose himself.

His team already trailing by six runs at the time, Garrett raced back to the wall in search of LeMahieu’s deep drive. He planted his left foot in the padded wall to get leverage for his leap, then fell to the ground and writhed in pain as LeMahieu circled the bases and a crowd of 37,266 roared before fully realizing what happened.

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Edwards shut down with stress fracture in scapula

edwards pitching white

NEW YORK – Though encouraged by the recent return of two key relievers from the injured list, the Nationals recently received bad news about one of their other key bullpen arms attempting to return from the IL.

Carl Edwards Jr. has been shut down indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right scapula, a significant derailment of the veteran’s rehab efforts.

Edwards, who has been out since June 20 with shoulder inflammation, appeared to be on track to return for the season’s final month, making two rehab appearances for Single-A Wilmington in the last week. The first appearance went well, with Edwards retiring the side on 12 pitches. But his second outing Saturday did not, with the pitcher retiring only one of the five batters he faced and surrendering two homers and a triple.

Edwards reported not feeling right after that most recent game, and the Nationals scheduled an MRI for him, which revealed the stress fracture.

“We’re going to shut him down indefinitely until this goes away,” manager Davey Martinez said. “It stinks, because he was working his way back. But his last outing, he said he just didn’t feel right. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but he’s going to be out for a while.”

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Game 127 lineups: Nats at Yankees

lane thomas happy grey

NEW YORK – It’s been two years since the Nationals last won eight of 10 games. It’s been way longer since the Yankees last lost nine in a row. And way longer than that since they lost 10 in a row.

Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory secured the Nats’ first 8-2 stretch since June 2021. It also secured the Yankees’ first nine-game losing streak since 1982. One more tonight and the mighty Bronx Bombers would have their first 10-game losing streak since (gulp) 1913. (For what it’s worth, the Nationals haven’t lost 10 in a row since 2008, which isn’t a bad streak in itself, all things considered.)

MacKenzie Gore will try to do what Josiah Gray did Tuesday night and keep the Yankees from scoring runs in bunches. Gore was outstanding his last time out, shutting out the Red Sox on one hit over 6 1/3 innings before a blister opened up on his left middle finger and forced him from the game. The Nats hope that won’t be an issue again tonight but will keep an eye on it, for sure.

Davey Martinez would probably like more than two runs (each via solo homer) tonight, even though that was barely enough offense to win Tuesday. His lineup will be facing Luis Severino, who enters an astonishing 2-8 with a 7.98 ERA and 1.88 WHIP.

Where: Yankee Stadium
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Partly cloudy, 74 degrees, wind 7 mph out to left field

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Kieboom returns to majors with a bang

Carter Keiboom blue jersey

NEW YORK – The smile on his face was evident. As was the fist pump as he approached second base. What, though, really was going through Carter Kieboom’s mind during a trip around the bases two years in the making Tuesday night?

“Baseball’s crazy,” the Nationals third baseman said. “We’ve all seen some crazy stuff. And after everything, being two years removed, to have that be my first hit back, first swing … it’s special. It meant a lot to me. You really can’t make this stuff up.”

No, you really can’t. Because who would believe it?

After three failed attempts to prove himself in the majors from 2019-21, then Tommy John surgery in 2022, then a shoulder impingement and an oblique strain as he tried to return this season, Kieboom finally was back in the Nats lineup Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. And then homered on his very first major league swing since the final day of the 2021 season.

It almost felt too contrived to be reality.

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Young Nats again lead the way in win over Yankees (updated)

nats celebrate blue

NEW YORK – The Nationals arrived at Yankee Stadium this afternoon with a newly re-signed manager, a bunch of emerging young stars and one of the best records in the majors over the last month and a half.

Then they showed a crowd of 38,105 why they don’t believe any of this is a fluke, riding the contributions of some of those emerging young stars (and one returning former top prospect) to a 2-1 victory that sent the reeling Yankees deeper into a hole they appear unlikely to emerge from.

Carter Kieboom homered on his first major league swing in nearly two years, Josiah Gray pitched around five walks to allow only one hit over six innings and CJ Abrams provided the winning blast with an eighth-inning homer off the right field foul pole.

And just like that, the Nationals kept flying high, unfazed by the supposed mystique and aura of The House That’s Supposed to Look like the House Ruth Built. They’ve won eight of their last 10, 24 of their last 38. And they’re doing it thanks in large part to key building blocks who are coming into their own at the same time.

"I think we can compete with anybody," Gray said. "We've shown that over the last month and a half, two months. ... We've been playing like a team since recent memory, and it's really fun to come to the ballpark every day knowing we have a chance to win, knowing we have a chance to upset the standings and kind of make a name for ourselves."

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New contract secured, Martinez focuses on future success

davey martinez blue

NEW YORK – After an exhausting, exhilarating Sunday in Williamsport, Davey Martinez was looking forward to a relaxing Monday off in Manhattan before his Nationals opened a three-game series against the Yankees. It wound up being an exhilarating day in its own right, complete with an evening celebration with family members after he signed a two-year contract extension to remain this club’s manager through at least the 2025 season, potentially more.

“It’s a blessing for me and my family to be able to do what I love,” Martinez said today after the signing was officially announced. “And actually to be doing a lot better with it right now, with the way the guys have been playing. I really believe the future is bright here for us. I’m excited about that.”

Martinez had been working on the final year of his current contract, unsure if he’d have to wait until September or even October to learn his fate. When he got the word from longtime agent Alan Nero on Monday, though, he was elated to know the question wouldn’t linger any longer.

Martinez’s deal includes two guaranteed years, plus a club option for 2026, according to a source familiar with the contract. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but the 58-year-old is making $3.5 million this season, his sixth as Nationals manager.

Originally hired in November 2017 to take over a franchise that had won four recent division titles but had yet to win a postseason series, Martinez led the Nats through a frustrating 2018 season and then a 19-31 start to the 2019 season before guiding that star-laden roster to a World Series title. Two years later, that roster began to be dismantled, the organization embarking on a full-scale rebuild that bottomed out in 2022 with a club-record 107 losses.

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Game 126 lineups: Nats at Yankees

gray pitches grey

NEW YORK – After an eventful day in Williamsport and then an eventful off-day in New York, the Nationals get back to work tonight with the opener of a three-city trip that will take them up and down the East Coast and even across international borders.

It begins tonight at Yankee Stadium, where the home team is in a freefall, having lost eight in a row, falling four games under .500 and 9 1/2 games out of the American League wild card race. Yes, the Nats are closer to a playoff berth (eight games) than the Yankees. Strange times, indeed.

Davey Martinez (whose new two-year contract was officially announced today) has a lineup loaded with eight right-handed bats, including Carter Kieboom, who makes his first appearance in a big league game since 2021. He’s also got both Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams in the lineup together, something we’re seeing most of the time now when the Nats are facing a lefty like Carlos Rodón.

Josiah Gray, meanwhile, makes his first career start at Yankee Stadium, just a stone’s throw away from his childhood home in New Rochelle. The young right-hander has been teetering a bit in recent outings. He’ll surely be motivated tonight, but the Nationals need quality from him.

Where: Yankee Stadium
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Partly cloudy, 77 degrees, wind 7 mph in from left field

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