Longtime international scouting director DiPuglia resigns

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Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals’ longtime head of international scouting, has resigned after nearly 15 years with the organization, creating an opening for a prominent position within the front office as its longtime general manager continues to negotiate his own extension.

DiPuglia confirmed his resignation but did not offer details of the move, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

Initially hired in 2009, DiPuglia was tasked with overhauling a Latin American scouting and development operation that was in disarray following a scandal involving the falsifying of supposed top prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez’s name, age and playing ability. That scandal wound up costing both former GM Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo their jobs, with Mike Rizzo ascending to the GM position and hiring DiPuglia away from the Red Sox, where he served as Latin American scouting director.

Over the ensuing decade-plus, DiPuglia, 60, was rewarded with several promotions, most recently named vice president and assistant GM for international operations in November 2019. One month later, he was honored at baseball’s Winter Meetings with the Professional Scouts International Scout of the Year Award.

Under DiPuglia’s watch, the Nationals both spent considerable money on Latin American prospects and watched several of them become major leaguers, with Juan Soto headlining a group that also includes Victor Robles, Luis García, Joan Adon, Jose A. Ferrer, Wander Suero, Reynaldo López, Wilmer Difo, Jefry Rodriguez and Israel Pineda.

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Game 137 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins

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One bad week isn’t going to undo everything positive the Nationals have done over the previous six weeks. But you’d sure rather not let this losing streak linger much longer, right? They’ve dropped three in a row, not to mention five of their last six, for the first time since the first week of July.

They’ll try to reverse that trend this afternoon against a Marlins team that continues to beat them with far more regularity than anyone around here would prefer. Aside from a solid couple of days in Miami last weekend, the Nats have been abysmal against their division foes: 2-9 this season, 6-24 over the last two seasons.

A lineup that has struggled but did manage three solo homers Friday night will be facing veteran Johnny Cueto, whose season has twice been disrupted by stints on the injured list, once for biceps tendinitis and most recently for a viral infection. What the crafty 37-year-old, who was roughed up in his last four starts before getting sick, has left in the tank is anyone’s guess.

Trevor Williams gets the start for the Nationals, hoping to build off back-to-back strong outings against the Phillies and these same Marlins. He allowed only two runs and went seven innings Sunday in Miami, taking a tough-luck 2-1 loss. After using six of his seven relievers during Friday’s 11-inning loss, Davey Martinez could certainly use a comparable start today from Williams.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. MIAMI MARLINS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Sunny, 84 degrees, wind 7 mph out to left field

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Thomas returns to lineup with a bang

Lane Thomas swing white

Lane Thomas didn’t like it when someone would bring up his homerless streak to begin the season, and he didn’t like it when someone would bring up his torrid power display through the early portion of the summer. So he obviously didn’t want someone to bring up the fact he had been in another long homerless streak prior to Friday night’s game.

“It’s a long season. I think at some point you go through a little drought,” he said. “It felt good to put a few good swings on it tonight.”

Thomas did put several good swings on the ball Friday against the Marlins, most notably on his leadoff homer in the bottom of the third. That 430-foot blast to left field was his 21st home run of the season, but his first in a long time.

Thomas notably hit his first homer of 2023 on May 1. He proceeded to hit 20 of them over his next 86 games, a stretch that ended Aug. 8. Since then? Nothing until Friday, a 21-game stretch that saw him bat just .221 and slug just .299.

The outfielder has always been streaky since joining the Nationals, but he seemed to turn a corner earlier this year when he went on a sustained tear at the plate that made him a bona fide All-Star candidate and perhaps solidified his place in the organization’s plans beyond this season.

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Nats rally in 10th but fall apart in 11th en route to loss (updated)

Travis Blankenhorn cherry blossoms

The Nationals’ winning month of August was defined by success late in games, both at the plate by an opportunistic lineup and on the mound by a lockdown bullpen.

On the first night of September, they showed it might be tough to keep that going through the season's final month.

Despite rallying to tie the game in the bottom of the 10th, the Nationals couldn't overcome an ugly top of the 11th and wound up on the wrong end of an 8-5 loss to the Marlins, suddenly their fifth loss in six days.

Robert Garcia and Mason Thompson, the Nats' fifth and sixth relievers of the night, combined to allow those four decisive runs in the 11th, the first of those scoring in the form of the automatic runner, the others scoring in more conventional fashion.

Garcia, returning to the mound after a two-inning, 28-pitch appearance Thursday night, surrendered three straight singles to open the inning. Thompson then replaced him and immediately served up a two-run homer to Garrett Hampson to cap the rally and make it all the more difficult for the Nationals to bounce back again in the bottom of the inning.

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Blankenhorn is next up for evaluation in left field

Travis Blankenhorn Rochester

Afforded the opportunity to expand their roster now that the calendar has shifted to September, the Nationals chose to add an outfielder with some prior big league experience and a reliever who has already made several stints in D.C. this season.

The Nats promoted outfielder Travis Blankenhorn and right-hander Amos Willingham from Triple-A Rochester, adding the one extra position player and one extra pitcher allotted by Major League Baseball for the season’s final month.

This is the fourth time the Nationals have called up Willingham, who has allowed 14 runs and 24 hits in 14 innings as a big leaguer. He may not stick here for long, with MacKenzie Gore set to return from bereavement leave in the coming days and Tanner Rainey nearing completion of his rehab assignment from last summer’s Tommy John surgery.

Blankenhorn, who spent the entire season in Rochester to this point, should get a more extended look as the Nats try to evaluate several players who are trying to force their way into the club’s long-term plans before top prospects Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House and Robert Hassell III make their major league debuts.

A 27-year-old outfielder with 26 games of prior big league experience with the Twins and Mets, Blankenhorn was a non-roster invitee to spring training and then spent the last five months at Triple-A, where he hit .262/.360/.517 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs across 455 plate appearances.

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Game 136 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins

irvin city v SFG

As well as they played for a good six weeks, the Nationals are kind of slipping a bit of late. They’ve lost four of their last five games, and a big part of the problem has been a lack of offense. The Nats have scored only 10 runs over those five games, totaling 30 hits, only six of those for extra bases. More, obviously, is needed.

The return of Lane Thomas to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game with a tight back would help, though he’s been slumping himself. Perhaps newly promoted outfielder Travis Blankenhorn, called up from Triple-A Rochester this afternoon, will provide a spark and some power.

Jake Irvin gets the start for the Nationals, and he quietly has become their most consistently effective starter. Over his last 13 outings, the rookie right-hander has a 3.64 ERA. And he’s allowed two or fewer runs in seven of those starts, often completing six innings. Another such performance tonight against the Marlins would be great.

The Nats have another arm in their bullpen as well, with Amos Willingham recalled from Triple-A as the roster expands to 28 active players. Reliever Rico Garcia, who had been on the 15-day injured list, was released to clear a 40-man spot for Blankenhorn.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. MIAMI MARLINS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 76 degrees, wind 6 mph out to left field

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On Kieboom's arm, Vargas' workload and Adams' slide

Carter Kieboom

TORONTO – Some assorted news and notes coming out of the finale of the Nationals’ four-city, 10-game road trip …

* Carter Kieboom was called up from Triple-A Rochester the day the trip began, way back on Aug. 20 in Williamsport, Pa. He didn’t appear in that game but was in the lineup the following night at Yankee Stadium and homered on the first pitch he saw in the majors in nearly two years.

Kieboom would go on to start seven of the remaining nine games of the trip, sitting once in New York and once in Toronto. He would hit two more homers and finish 7-for-26 with a double, three homers, five RBIs and six strikeouts.

In five of those games, though, Kieboom was pulled either in the eighth or ninth inning for defense. Davey Martinez, wanting to give his team its best chance at closing out wins, has had Ildemaro Vargas finish games at third base, a move that notably paid off Tuesday night when Vargas made a tough play on a slow bouncer with the bases loaded.

Martinez is prioritizing defense, but he also has been protecting Kieboom, who missed all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery and then missed more time this season with shoulder trouble stemming from his rehab from the major elbow procedure. That will probably remain the case for the time being, which Kieboom understands, even though he insists his arm feels strong now.

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Quiet loss for Nats at end of successful trip (updated)

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TORONTO – They left Washington some 10 days ago, bound for the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa. They’ll finally return home tonight, having played games in four cities across four states and two countries.

Along the way, the Nationals promoted their top pick from this year’s draft to Double-A, agreed to a new contract with their manager, worked toward a new deal with their general manager, saw a burgeoning young outfielder break his leg and learned their onetime ace has made the decision to retire because he couldn’t get his arm healthy again.

They also won more games than they lost, putting themselves on the verge of completing one of their best months of baseball in nearly four years.

The Nats lost to the Blue Jays today, 7-0, failing to pull off a sixth consecutive series victory. Patrick Corbin reverted back to the form that has been on display too much over the last three seasons, and a tired lineup was shut down by Chris Bassitt.

But as they pack up and finally prepare to head home after the longest road trip of the year, it’s impossible for the Nationals to view the overall situation around here as anything but positive.

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Gray penciled in, but not guaranteed to start Sunday

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TORONTO – When the Nationals put out their rotation plan for this weekend’s series against the Marlins, Josiah Gray’s name was listed for Sunday’s finale at Nationals Park. Asked about that, though, Davey Martinez admitted that may not remain the plan.

“I’m going to be honest with you: That could change,” the manager said today. “We’re going to treat it as if he’s going to start on Sunday. He’s going to go through his bullpen work. But I’m going to be out there and watch him through his bullpen. If I see any red flags or anything, then we might do something different.”

Gray just wrapped up a disappointing month, one in which he went 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA and failed to complete four innings in three of his five starts. It reached a low point Monday night against the Blue Jays when the right-hander was pulled after throwing 63 pitches in only two innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks.

After that game, Martinez suggested the Nationals might need to look at giving Gray a break, or at least some extra rest after this stretch has derailed what was a breakthrough, All-Star season for the 25-year-old.

For now, they’re still tentatively planning to send him to the mound Sunday afternoon to face the Marlins on five days’ rest. But that plan will remain tentative until Gray throws his Friday bullpen session in front of Martinez and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

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Game 134 lineups: Nats at Blue Jays

lane thomas happy grey

TORONTO – It’s a dreary Wednesday here north of the border, so the roof at Rogers Centre will probably be closed for the first time this series as the Nationals and Blue Jays face off one more time. A win today for the Nats would incredibly make it six consecutive series won, eight of their last nine.

And if it’s a matinee series finale, that means Patrick Corbin is pitching, a product of the six-man rotation that has been used for several weeks now. Not that Corbin has been bothered by it. Quite the contrary, he’s been quite good this month, going 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA, the Nats winning three of his four starts. And the left-hander continues to pitch well against American League foes, going 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA against the Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees this summer.

After getting a pair of big home runs Tuesday night from Carter Kieboom and Keibert Ruiz, the Nationals will try to keep the offense going today against Chris Bassitt, the former Athletics and Mets right-hander who enters 12-7 with a 4.00 ERA, having surrendered five homers over his last 24 2/3 innings.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 3:07 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS
SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas
1B Joey Meneses
DH Keibert Ruiz
3B Carter Kieboom
LF Jake Alu
3B Ildemaro Vargas
C Riley Adams
CF Jacob Young

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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. 

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 7:07 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
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.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 7:07 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
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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