Pitching, defense break down in loss to Phillies (updated)


PHILADELPHIA – For the past three weeks, the Nationals had been playing a much more watchable brand of baseball, made possible in large part by a vast improvement in the field.

Having spent the vast majority of the season trotting out the majors’ worst defense, the Nats have seen that problem area morph into a real strength since the arrival of 21-year-old shortstop CJ Abrams, which allowed Luis García to move to his more natural position at second base, while journeyman Ildemaro Vargas became a rock-solid addition at third base.

Then came tonight’s 8-5 loss at Citizens Bank Park, in which the Nationals reverted back to all their worst habits from this now 91-loss season, from poor starting pitching to a lack of sustained offense to unsightly defense.

The defensive miscues stood out more than anything else, because this team had looked so impressive in the field during their recent upswing. Officially, the Nats were charged with two errors (one by Vargas, one by César Hernández) but that doesn’t come close to telling the full story.

"Our infield didn't throw the ball well today," manager Davey Martinez said. "But they've been playing really well, so I'm just going to chalk it up to one of those nights, and come back tomorrow."

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Gore set for rehab start, Cavalli nearly ready to throw again


PHILADELPHIA – Some news and notes before the Nationals take on the Phillies in the second game of this weekend’s series at Citizens Bank Park …

* MacKenzie Gore is set to make a rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Rochester at Syracuse, his first game action since his acquisition from the Padres at the trade deadline.

Gore, who has been on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, is scheduled to throw three innings for the Red Wings, perhaps building up his pitch count to 45.

The Nationals are attempting to build Gore up enough to come off the IL before season’s end. Manager Davey Martinez said they’d ideally like for him to get up to five innings and 75 pitches, so that would suggest three minor league rehab starts and then at most two starts for the Nats in the season’s final days.

“The most exciting thing is that he’s throwing off the mound again. The ball’s coming out, and he looks like he’s good,” Martinez said. “Now it’s just a matter of facing hitters. We saw him do that a little bit, but now he gets to compete. I’m looking forward to watching him do that. My big thing is to make sure that when he leaves here this year, he’s healthy and he can go into the winter. And then we’ll build him up and get him ready for spring training.”

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Game 140 lineups: Nats at Phillies

Erick Fedde throws gray

PHILADELPHIA – After coming up short in Friday night’s series opener, the Nationals try to rediscover their winning ways tonight at Citizens Bank Park. They’ll need a better start from Erick Fedde than they got from Patrick Corbin, who despite a ridiculously low pitch count still gave up five runs on 12 hits in 6 1/3 innings during a 5-3 loss to the Phillies.

Fedde is coming off a strong outing Sunday in New York, where he held the Mets to one run over six innings to beat them for the first time in 11 career head-to-head starts. The right-hander actually is facing the Phillies for the first time this season, an odd rotation scheduling quirk, and he’ll be going up against his old high school buddy Bryce Harper, who is merely 9-for-18 with five homers in his career against Fedde.

With left-hander Ranger Suárez starting for Philadelphia, Davey Martinez is going with a right-handed-heavy lineup. That includes Nelson Cruz batting cleanup again after hitting sixth on Thursday and then sitting Friday. It includes the suddenly potent Alex Call in the No. 5 spot, with César Hernández behind him and playing second base.

Citizens Bank Park
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 81 degrees, wind 8 mph out to center field

CF Lane Thomas
RF Joey Meneses
1B Luke Voit
DH Nelson Cruz
LF Alex Call
2B César Hernández
3B Ildemaro Vargas
C Riley Adams
SS CJ Abrams

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Trio of young catchers now gets chance to play


PHILADELPHIA – Keibert Ruiz’s first full big league season has likely come to an unfortunate end. But while everyone certainly would have liked to see him finish the year out on the active roster, to be honest, there wasn’t really anything else he needed to prove.

The Nationals know Ruiz can hit for contact. They know he has emerging power. They know he is developing into a more aggressive game planner and pitch caller. They know he’s got one of the best arms in baseball behind the plate. And they know he’s tough and durable, wanting to play as often as possible at the most physically demanding position in the sport.

What the Nats don’t know at this point is the identity of their No. 2 catcher heading into 2023.

They’ve alternated between Riley Adams and Tres Barrera this season, neither one of them showing enough consistency to seize the job on a permanent basis. And now they can add Israel Pineda to the mix after calling up the 22-year-old only one week after he was promoted from Double-A Harrisburg to Triple-A Rochester.

Manager Davey Martinez intends to get a good look at all three over the season’s final 23 games.

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Corbin suffers 18th loss as Nats drop opener in Philly (updated)

Patrick Corbin throwing gray back

PHILADELPHIA – Patrick Corbin and Noah Syndergaard, at their best, were high-strikeout pitchers. Double-digit totals were regular occurrences for both starters, back when Corbin was leading the Nationals and Syndergaard was leading the Mets deep into Octobers of yesteryear.

That’s not who either guy is right now, Corbin because he’s devolved into a shell of his former self, Syndergaard because he missed considerable time with major arm injuries.

So when they faced off tonight at Citizens Bank Park, the fast-paced ballgame that ensued featured precious few strikeouts, zero walks by either starter and a whole lot of early contact by both lineups.

The Phillies managed to make more out of their contact than the Nationals did, emerging with a 5-3 victory that left Corbin to suffer his 18th loss of the season.

Corbin, who allowed five runs and a whopping 12 hits over 6 2/3 innings despite throwing only 69 pitches, is the majors’ first 18-game loser since Chris Archer and James Shields each lost 19 in 2016. Barring a change in the Nats’ rotation plans, he’s on track to make four more starts this year as he attempts to avoid becoming the sport’s first 20-game loser in nearly two decades.

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Ruiz's season likely over, McGee designated for assignment

Keibert Ruiz catchers gear gray

PHILADELPHIA – Keibert Ruiz’s season has likely come to an abrupt end after the Nationals placed their young catcher on the injured list with a testicular contusion that forced him to remain in a St. Louis hospital overnight after he was struck by a foul ball during the team’s series finale against the Cardinals.

Ruiz was discharged and was flying to Philadelphia late this afternoon to rejoin the Nationals, who formally placed him on the 10-day IL prior to tonight’s game against the Phillies. Manager Davey Martinez, though, said Ruiz has been instructed not to partake in any strenuous activities for three weeks, which leaves him almost no chance of making it back before the season ends in 26 days.

“We hope that he just continues to get better,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he’s doing. But with everything going on, the doctors said he’s not able to do anything strenuous for three weeks. So we’re just going to take it day by day and take it from there.”

Martinez generally was encouraged about Ruiz’s progress in the last day and didn’t sound overly concerned about his long-term well-being. Assuming his season is over, the 24-year-old will finish with a .251 batting average, 22 doubles, seven homers, 36 RBIs and a .673 OPS across 433 plate appearances.

Ruiz enters the day having caught 106 games, second only to the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto this season. He has thrown out 18 basestealers while also picking off four runners, giving him 22 total runners thrown out (again, second only to Realmuto among all major league catchers).

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Game 139 lineups: Nats at Phillies

corbin @BAL blue

PHILADELPHIA – The first two legs of the Nationals’ three-city road trip went about as well as anyone could’ve reasonably expected, and that’s even with Wednesday night’s disastrous bottom of the ninth in St. Louis. They still managed to win two of three against the Mets, then split a four-game series with the Cardinals. Now they arrive at Citizens Bank Park for a three-game weekend set with the Phillies, who aren’t in first place of their division the way the other two teams were, but are very much in the thick of the wild card race.

As expected, the Nats did make roster moves before tonight’s game, with Keibert Ruiz landing on the 10-day injured list with a testicular contusion after his scary incident with a foul ball Thursday afternoon. To fill his spot, 22-year-old catching prospect Israel Pineda had his contract selected from Triple-A Rochester, getting his first promotion to the big leagues. Jordan Weems was also recalled from Rochester, while Jake McGee was designated for assignment.

The Nationals have been scoring runs during their recent upswing, and they’ll try to continue that tonight against veteran Noah Syndergaard, who gave up four runs on 11 hits when they met each other here last month. Also remember: Syndergaard has long been one of the worst pitchers in baseball at holding runners on base, so look for the Nats to run when they have the opportunity.

Patrick Corbin, meanwhile, returns to the site of one of his worst starts of the year, one of two in which he didn’t complete the first inning. He’s been much better since, and tonight he looks for his third straight win against a Phillies lineup that surprisingly doesn’t include Bryce Harper (who has struggled since coming off the IL).

Citizens Bank Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly clear, 79 degrees, wind 8 mph out to left field

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After missed chance Wednesday, Call delivers Thursday


ST. LOUIS – Alex Call returned to his hotel room late Wednesday night and couldn’t help but think about it.

A short while earlier, Call had found himself right in the middle of the play that decided the Nationals’ game against the Cardinals. Having pinch-run for Riley Adams in the top of the eighth, he was now in left field during a harrowing bottom of the ninth that saw Kyle Finnegan turn a comfortable four-run lead into a one-run nailbiter with two outs. And when Tommy Edman smoked Finnegan’s 31st pitch of the inning on a straight line over Call’s head, the rookie outfielder realized he was the Nats’ last hope to win the game.

Call ran back towards the fence, and as the ball was beginning to come down past him, he leaped and stuck his glove out in an attempt to make what would’ve been the Nationals’ greatest game-ending catch since Steven Souza Jr. saved Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 regular season.

But though he got his glove on the ball, Call could not do anything more than deflect it to the ground, where it fell harmlessly as the tying and winning runs scored for the Cardinals.

Nobody was blaming Call for not making a highlight-reel catch afterward, but that doesn’t mean the 27-year-old was at peace with the outcome.

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Nats bounce back with blowout win over Cards (updated)

Alex Call swinging gray

ST. LOUIS – When a familiar situation presented itself this afternoon at Busch Stadium, his team holding a late lead against the Cardinals, Davey Martinez opted to once again entrust that lead to Kyle Finnegan.

The only difference: This time, Finnegan got the ball for the bottom of the eighth, not the bottom of the ninth.

Actually, there was another difference: This time, Finnegan retired the side, then watched as his teammates blew the game wide open in the top of the ninth en route to a most impressive 11-6 victory for the Nationals less than 24 hours removed from a heart-wrenching loss in which Finnegan blew a four-run lead in the ninth.

There was no drama this time. (Well, the Cardinals did score two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Jake McGee and threaten to make this interesting before Carl Edwards Jr. cleaned up the mess.) Instead, there was a clean inning of setup work for Finnegan, and a whole lot of offense from the Nationals, who left town with heads held high after earning a four-game series split against the NL Central-leading Cardinals.

"I can't say enough about how these guys are playing," Martinez said. "I said these guys play hard for 27 outs. Today's the perfect example of them getting after it again, scoring a bunch of runs and playing good baseball."

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Ramirez has quietly given Nats strong season

Erasmo Ramirez throws gray

ST LOUIS – Had the Nationals hung on to win Wednesday night, instead of watching as Kyle Finnegan blew a four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, the story of that victory might well have focused on Erasmo Ramirez, who quietly strung together 2 2/3 perfect innings of relief to keep the game close and put his teammates in position to rally in the top of the eighth.

In a way, it’s actually fitting that Ramirez’s performance was lost in the shuffle at night’s end. Because it feels like his entire season has gone under the radar when it has deserved far more attention.

Entering today’s series finale against the Cardinals, Ramirez sports a sparkling 2.84 ERA and 1.082 WHIP. The only major league reliever with at least 70 innings pitched and a lower ERA is the Angels’ Jaime Barria (2.60). Only Barria (0.991) and the Orioles’ Keegan Akin (1.009) own a lower WHIP.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and then some,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s been a quiet leader in the bullpen, as well. He’s helped out a lot of guys. But he’s a bulldog. He takes the ball every day; if need be, multiple innings. We asked him to start one day, he had no problems with that. So he does whatever we’ve asked him to do, and he’s been great.”

Indeed, Ramirez has pitched in just about every possible scenario he could this season. He was an emergency starter June 13 and July 17 against the Braves, each time churning out three innings before giving way to another reliever. He’s pitched as many as 3 1/3 innings in long relief, then entered to record two outs with runners in base in the seventh inning of a close game. He’s been credited with four wins and three holds, though he has yet to secure a save.

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Game 138 lineups: Nats at Cardinals (Robles scratched)

josiah gray pitches blue

ST LOUIS – The Nationals were one out away Wednesday night of victory, of securing at least a four-game split here at Busch Stadium and of clinching a winning road trip against two division leaders. And then … well, you know what happened in the bottom of the ninth.

They still have an opportunity today, however, to achieve all of the above and head home 4-3 against the Mets and Cardinals, which would be no small achievement. They’ll attempt to do so in an early matinee, with a 12:15 p.m. local first pitch on a bright, warm September afternoon here.

Josiah Gray gets the start, and he’ll need to be better than he was in New York, when he allowed six runs to the Mets. These final starts of Gray’s season are important. He really wants to finish on a high note and go into 2023 feeling good about his place near the top of the Nats rotation. To do that, he’s going to have to pitch well against some good lineups still on the schedule, including the Cardinals lineup he’ll face today.

The Nationals, who were completely shut down by left-hander Jordan Montgomery until the seventh inning Wednesday night, now go up against the wily old veteran right-hander, Adam Wainwright, who today pairs up with Yadier Molina for the 324th time as a major league battery, tying the all-time record. Notable switch to Davey Martinez’s lineup: Nelson Cruz has been bumped down to the No. 6 spot after struggling out of the cleanup position.

Update: The Nats have a late lineup change: Victor Robles was scratched with a stiff neck. Alex Call replaces him batting ninth and playing left field. Lane Thomas is now in center field.

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After Nats take late lead, Finnegan gives it back in ninth (updated)

finnegan throws @STL gray

ST LOUIS – Just when a sleepy Nationals lineup came through with an inspired rally to take a seemingly comfortable late lead over the Cardinals, a rusty closer managed to turn what should've been an uplifting victory tonight into a crushing defeat.

Handed a four-run lead for the bottom of the ninth at Busch Stadium, Kyle Finnegan promptly gave up five runs to hand his team a 6-5 loss, Tommy Edman's two-run double to deep left field just off a diving Alex Call's glove the final blow that left what remained of a crowd of 34,715 delirious and left the Nats devastated.

"Hey, when you close games, some days go well, some don't," manager Davey Martinez said. "The biggest thing for me is you've got to come in there, up four runs, and you've got to pound the strike zone. Walks are going to kill you."

Finnegan hadn't pitched in six days even though the Nationals had won three times on this road trip, because all of those wins were lopsided. Martinez summoned him tonight in a non-save situation simply because he needed the work. It backfired.

"I didn't feel rusty," Finnegan insisted. "I just couldn't make the pitch when I needed to. The stuff was getting a little too much of the plate, and they were doing their job. They were hitting mistakes and doing damage with it. I just wasn't able to make a pitch to get us out of it tonight."

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Abrams gets night off, García stays at second base


ST LOUIS – There’s a line of thinking that the last kind of players who need days off are young players. Certainly, their bodies aren’t in need of regular rest.

There’s more than one reason for a day off, though. And for some young players, a mental day off can be more important than a physical one.

That’s why Davey Martinez has CJ Abrams sitting tonight, just as he did six days earlier. The Nationals rookie shortstop is fine physically, but his manager believes he would benefit from a quick break to clear his mind and focus on working on some fundamentals without the pressure of having a game to play as well.

“We’re asking him to do a lot,” Martinez said. “Even between the games, he’s getting a lot of work in. My thought is: We’ve got a day game tomorrow, give him a break today. We’ve got another lefty today (in Cardinals starter Jordan Montgomery). Just giving him a little breather, and we’ll get him back out there tomorrow. …

“He’s doing great. For me, it’s just part of the process with him.”

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Game 137 lineups: Nats at Cardinals

garcia hr @ NYM gray

ST. LOUIS – The Nationals look to get back on the winning track tonight after seeing their three-game streak end Tuesday night in a pretty lackluster, 4-1 loss to the Cardinals. They’ll certainly need to hit more than that if they want to win this one, and they’ll have a few different names in the lineup as they attempt to do so.

Keibert Ruiz finally gets his long-awaited day off after starting five games in a row. That means Riley Adams is catching and batting eighth. CJ Abrams also gets the night off, somewhat surprisingly. That bumps Ildemaro Vargas to shortstop and opens up third base for César Hernández. (You’ll be pleased to know Nelson Cruz is still in there, batting cleanup.)

Cory Abbott makes this start as the sixth member of the rotation this turn around. It’s the right-hander’s fifth start and 11th overall pitching appearance this season, and he’s mostly given the Nationals a chance when he’s been out there. He’ll face a good test tonight in the Cardinals lineup.

Busch Stadium

Gametime: 7:45 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly clear, 78 degrees, wind 7 mph in from center field

CF Lane Thomas
RF Joey Meneses
1B Luke Voit
DH Nelson Cruz
2B Luis García
3B Cesar Hernandez
SS Ildemaro Vargas
C Riley Adams
CF Victor Robles

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After three-inning save, Nats intrigued by Thompson

Mason Thompson throwing gray

ST. LOUIS – When he took the mound for the bottom of the seventh Monday afternoon, Mason Thompson was focused solely on completing that inning. When he proceeded to retire the side on eight pitches, his mind turned to the possibility of returning for the bottom of the eighth. And when he proceeded to get through that inning on 13 pitches, he realized he might just get the opportunity to go back out there for the bottom of the ninth.

And when he proceeded to retire the side again on 11 pitches, Thompson not only found himself in the center of the diamond for a game-ending celebration, but having also recorded the first save of his big league career because he completed three innings of relief to seal his team’s win, even if it was by more than three runs.

“It definitely wasn’t something that I woke up and expected to do today, but it was pretty awesome,” the 24-year-old right-hander said. “I knew after that second one, maybe I’d get a chance to run out there for a third. I was glad that they were able to let me do that. It was pretty awesome.”

Three-inning saves, a staple of the 1970s and ’80s, aren’t particularly common these days. Thompson became only the seventh Nationals reliever to do it in club history, and the list is pretty eccentric: Steven Shell (2008), Tom Gorzelanny (2012), Ross Detwiler (2014), A.J. Cole (2015), Kyle McGowin (2019) and Javy Guerra (2019).

Thompson, though, may be the type of pitcher who has the opportunity to do this more than once. Club officials seem to believe his future is as a multi-inning reliever.

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Nats go down quietly as winning streak ends (updated)

vargas swing @ STL gray

ST LOUIS – The Nationals’ recent surge has been keyed in many ways by young (or, at least, inexperienced) players making a case to be part of the organization’s long-term plan.

The roster isn’t deep enough just yet, though, to be filled entirely with building blocks. There are still more than a few veterans in prominent roles as the season winds down, some of them rising to the occasion to help make this surge possible, others still searching for lost production.

So tonight’s 4-1 loss to the Cardinals, snapping a three-game losing streak, saw 35-year-old Paolo Espino allow three runs over five innings, 36-year-old Steve Cishek give up a seventh-inning homer to Nolan Gorman and 42-year-old Nelson Cruz go hitless out of the cleanup spot.

Such is life for a rebuilding club that hasn’t completely rebuilt the roster with up-and-comers just yet.

The Nationals were seeking their first four-game winning streak of the season, not to mention seven wins in nine games for the first time in 2022. They didn’t get there, falling to 48-88 overall and losing some of the uplifting vibes they had created in recent days with a fairly uneventful performance against the National League Central-leading Cardinals.

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Gore faces live hitters, on track to begin rehab assignment

gore padres

ST. LOUIS – It was a far cry from an actual major league game, and it was far from perfect from a performance standpoint, but MacKenzie Gore’s simulated game this afternoon at Busch Stadium represented an important step in a rehab process the left-hander believes will conclude with his Nationals debut before season’s end.

“Big step in the right direction,” he said. “I felt good. It wasn’t perfect, by any means. But I felt good, and definitely moving in the right direction.”

Gore, who was acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade while on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, threw 37 pitches over two simulated innings today. He worked with Tres Barrera behind the plate, facing teammates Josh Palacios, Riley Adams and Alex Call.

This was the first time the 23-year-old faced live hitters since July 25, when he departed the Padres’ game in Detroit after only 33 pitches and reported elbow soreness. He landed on the IL shortly after that, and a week later was one of six players dealt to the Nats for Soto and Bell.

Gore has been rehabbing with the big league club since, getting comfortable with the Nationals’ medical and coaching staffs. He threw three times off a bullpen mound leading up to today’s outing. The plan moving forward: He’s scheduled to throw another bullpen session Friday in Washington, and if everything goes well, he’ll be sent out on a minor league rehab assignment.

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Game 136 lineups: Nats at Cardinals

Nelson Cruz Swing Gray

ST. LOUIS – The 2022 Nationals have not enjoyed a single four-game winning streak at any point. Nor have they won seven of nine games during any stretch this season. Imagine how encouraging it would be if they could cross both of those items off their list tonight, with those four consecutive wins all coming on the road against first-place opponents?

It’s there for the taking, if the Nats can beat the Cardinals for the second straight day. They’ll do so trying to keep the good offensive vibes going. After totaling a mere 15 runs over a seven-game stretch a week ago, they’ve scored a whopping 41 runs over their last seven games, producing double-digit hits each of the last five days.

Davey Martinez’s lineup has Nelson Cruz back from three days off with a sore right knee, and back in the cleanup spot he’s held most of the season. Given how well Keibert Ruiz and Luis García (batting fifth and sixth tonight) have looked recently, Cruz is facing some real pressure to deliver in front of them. He’s been better of late, but not as good as others in this current lineup.

Paolo Espino gets the start for the Nationals, and boy, would they like to get him his long-awaited first win of the season. They’ve managed to provide enough support to give their starter the win in five of the last seven games. Maybe it’s Espino’s turn at last to be rewarded for his efforts.

Busch Stadium

Gametime: 7:45 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 6 mph in from left field

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More comfortable Abrams starting to put things together

CJ Abrams swing red home

ST. LOUIS – His first at-bat produced in the first triple of his career. His second produced one of the hardest exit velocities of his career. His third produced an infield single in which he could show off his elite speed. His fourth produced the first three-hit game of his career.

And when he singled again in his fifth and final at-bat Monday at Busch Stadium, CJ Abrams had himself the first four-hit game of his career, capping off a fantastic afternoon at the plate by the Nationals’ rookie shortstop.

“Every time I’m at the plate, I’m getting more and more comfortable,” he said.

There’s no disputing that. After a sluggish start to his time in D.C., Abrams is beginning to look like the highly skilled hitter and defender the Nats believed they were getting from the Padres all along in last month’s Juan Soto trade.

With only six hits in his first 44 at-bats, Abrams at times looked overwhelmed by big league pitching. Through it all, manager Davey Martinez insisted it was only a matter of time before the 21-year-old started to apply what he was being coached and saw the results to match.

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Nats topple Cards to keep September surge going (updated)


ST. LOUIS – The 2022 season was never going to be about wins and losses for the Nationals. It was always going to be about development, and the hope that there would be more reason to be optimistic by season’s end than there was at the outset.

It’s still far too soon to declare anything in that regard, and the current roster has a whole lot of work still to do to try to erase the foul stench of April through August. But there is no doubt the last couple of weeks have offered as many encouraging developments as anyone around here has seen all year, peaking this Labor Day weekend.

Today’s 6-0 victory over the Cardinals was the Nationals’ third straight over a first-place opponent, coming on the heels of back-to-back, 7-1 road wins over the Mets. They’ve now won six of eight for only the second time this year, and they’ve won nine of 16 for the first time in 2022.

"I think it shows you what we can do when everyone's clicking at the same time," outfielder Lane Thomas said. "It's been fun. The last 10 days or so, it's been awesome."

The results, of course, are welcomed by everyone, but just as encouraging are the primary players who are making these results possible. The young core general manager Mike Rizzo is trying to assemble in the wake of the massive sell-off of the last two summers is beginning to take shape and beginning to look like something worth building around.

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