Strange-Gordon activated, Fox optioned to Triple-A

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DENVER – Nineteen days have passed since Dee Strange-Gordon first was sent back to his hotel in Pittsburgh with an illness, then late sent back to Washington with instructions not to leave his home until he was medically cleared to do so.

All the veteran utilityman could do throughout the process was some agility workouts with large rubber bands, then use a virtual reality system to watch major league pitchers throw various pitches toward him. Otherwise, he couldn’t pick up a bat, couldn’t play catch, couldn’t come to the ballpark for workouts.

“Just part of it,” he said today. “That’s how the world works right now. I had to do what I had to do. I’m just thankful I didn’t get anybody else sick.”

Strange-Gordon did not get anybody else sick, and today he finally was activated off the injured list and reinstated to the Nationals’ active roster for the opener of their three-game series against the Rockies.

“It’s been a while,” he said. “Happy to see my teammates. Happy to be back.”

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Game 25 lineups: Nats at Rockies

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DENVER – The Nationals lineup just scored 28 runs over the weekend in pitcher-friendly Oracle Park. How many will they score over the next three nights at Coors Field, the greatest hitter-friendly park in major league history? The Nats haven’t hit for much power all season, even in San Francisco. So the thin air may not help them as much as the huge outfield dimensions here might.  

Davey Martinez will hope he can keep Josh Bell, Yadiel Hernandez and Victor Robles hot. He’ll also hope Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz and Keibert Ruiz can get going and start contributing on a more consistent basis. They’ll face Rockies right-hander Germán Márquez, who enters with a 5.57 ERA but has enjoyed success against the two Nationals he’s faced the most in his career: Bell (1-for-18 with a homer) and César Hernández (1-for-11).

Erick Fedde gets the start for the Nats; he was effective last time out against the Marlins, allowing only two runs on three hits. But he lasted only 4 2/3 innings because his pitch count was a whopping 91. He’s got to figure out how to finish off hitters once he gets ahead in the count and avoid those long at-bats that keep killing him.

The Nationals announced they have returned from rehab assignment and reinstated Dee Strange-Gordon, optioned Lucius Fox to Triple-A Rochester and transferred Aníbal Sánchez to the 60-day injured list.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at COLORADO ROCKIES
Where: Coors Field
Gametime: 8:40 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 61 degrees, wind 10 mph in from left field

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What have we learned about the Nats after one month?

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DENVER – What was the secret to the Nationals’ series win over the weekend in San Francisco? A reinvigorated lineup? Effective starting pitching? Lockdown relief work?

Or was it the turning of the calendar hanging in the manager’s office?

“April, the pressure’s always to start off really good,” Davey Martinez explained Sunday. “Everybody wants to start off good, right? Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you put added pressure (on yourself). Now it’s: Hey, May 1! May 1! Go have some fun! Go play baseball!”

Maybe that had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, the season’s first month is no over, and we have indeed shifted to May baseball, which does feel different than April baseball. We’re starting to get a better sense of the team, who’s having a good season, who isn’t and who still has time either to turn it around or fall apart.

So let’s take this opportunity, before the Nationals’ road trip continues tonight against the Rockies, to consider what we’ve seen so far, and what it might mean for the rest of the season …

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Off-day news and notes on the Nationals bullpen

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SAN FRANCISCO – The Nationals are off today, with an opportunity to relax in Denver and contemplate all the positive developments that occurred during their weekend series triumph over the Giants before they open a three-game series Tuesday with the Rockies.

Let’s take a moment to contemplate some things as well, with a particular emphasis on the bullpen …

* Following Sunday’s 11-5 victory, the Nationals optioned relievers Sam Clay and Francisco Pérez to Triple-A Rochester. All major league clubs were required to reduce their active rosters from 28 to 26 by the end of the day, and the Nats chose to drop two left-handers in the process.

The moves weren’t necessarily surprising. Neither Clay nor Pérez made the opening day roster. Both were summoned more recently when other relievers went down. And neither did a whole lot to distinguish himself and force his way onto the roster for a longer stint.

Clay allowed five runs in four innings, giving up a homer, walking two and even hitting three batters along the way. Pérez was charged with only one run allowed over 4 1/3 innings, but he walked a whopping six of the 22 total batters he faced across five appearances.

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Gray, bats come up big for series win in San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCO – Josiah Gray had been here before. An otherwise dominant start was now teetering on the brink, often spoiled by an untimely home run surrendered.

Here, then, was Gray in the bottom of the fifth this afternoon at Oracle Park, having just finally allowed his first hit of the game, now having subsequently loaded the bases with Darrin Ruf stepping to the plate for the Giants with a chance to ruin everything.

What proceeded to take place perhaps will be looked back upon as a turning point for the 24-year-old in his ascension from highly touted prospect to legitimate frontline starter. Just when he could have folded, Gray bore down and put out the fire. He struck out Ruf on four pitches, hopping off the mound with glee after he got him to whiff at a slider, preserving the Nationals’ lead in what ultimately would be an 11-5 win that saw way more late action than anyone anticipated.

"Making that pitch, after not making my pitches that whole inning, being able to make that pitch to that kind of hitter was huge," Gray said. "It was just an exclaim for joy and raw emotion. There's nothing like it."

A weekend series that included plenty of action and nothing but lopsided games saw the Nats emerge victorious twice in three attempts. After getting swept by San Francisco only seven days prior in D.C., they bounced back in impressive fashion here to win the series and begin this nine-game West Coast trip on a decided high note.

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Strasburg, Ross to face hitters Wednesday, Sánchez still sidelined

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SAN FRANCISCO – Three right-handers who would probably be members of the Nationals rotation right now if healthy remain out, though two of them at least are about to cross a significant hurdle in their recoveries.

Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are scheduled to face live hitters Wednesday in West Palm Beach, Fla. It’ll be the first time Strasburg has done that since mid-March and the first time Ross has done it since he was shut down last summer with a tear in his right elbow.

After weeks strictly throwing off a bullpen mound, both Strasburg and Ross will pitch to live hitters at extended spring training. If all goes well, they would be ready to progress to pitching in a game situation shortly after, then a minor league rehab assignment that would allow them build their arms up to be ready to join the major league rotation at last.

Strasburg already had thrown to live hitters briefly during spring training but backed off because he wasn’t happy with his mechanics, Martinez said last week. The 33-year-old, attempting to return from last July’s thoracic outlet surgery, has since been working out of a windup for the first time since 2017, trying to get more power from his legs to compensate what he lost from his arm.

Ross, who missed the second half of last season with a slight tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, then had surgery in early-March to remove a bone spur in that elbow. The 28-year-old will now be ready to face live hitters for the first time.

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Game 24 lineups: Nats at Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO – It’s been a strange series so far, with the Nationals blowing out the Giants on Friday night and then getting blown out Saturday afternoon. The end result of all that? They still have a chance to win the weekend series today if they can put everything together for nine innings.

Josiah Gray gets the ball for his fifth start of the season. His last three have been pretty good, the only issue the four runs he gave up to the Marlins last time out, though he offset that with 10 strikeouts. As has too often been the case for the young right-hander, the home run was killer: Joey Wendle got him for a three-run blast. Perhaps today, Gray will be able to keep the ball inside spacious Oracle Park.

The Nationals will try to keep their recent hitting surge going against Alex Cobb, who is coming off the injured list from a strained adductor muscle. The right-hander made two starts before suffering that injury, allowing five earned runs in 9 1/3 innings but striking out 14.

Most of the regulars are playing today, except for Alcides Escobar, who gets the day off after a world of struggles at shortstop on Saturday. It’ll be Lucius Fox getting the start instead, the rookie still seeking his first career hit. He enters the day 0-for-20.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Where: Oracle Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly sunny, 64 degrees, wind 16 mph out to center field

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With hands up, Robles' production finally goes up

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SAN FRANCISCO – When he stepped into the on-deck circle in the top of the second Friday night, Victor Robles immediately heard Davey Martinez say it.

“Get your hands up!” the Nationals manager implored his center fielder from his dugout perch only a few feet away.

When he stepped into the on-deck circle again in the top of the third, Robles again heard the same message from his manager.

“Yeah, every time,” Robles said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “Every time I go into the on-deck circle, he reminds me.”

Yep, it happened again in the top of the sixth, then the top of the seventh, then the top of the eighth. At some point, Robles didn’t even wait for his manager to say it. He jumped the gun and said it himself before the message could be delivered.

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Nats come up short in all phases during loss to Giants (updated)

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SAN FRANCISCO – They aren’t going to rack up 22 hits every night. No, as enjoyable as Friday night’s blowout victory at Oracle Park was, the Nationals returned to work today knowing they were going to need to make the most of the scoring opportunities they got while preventing the Giants from doing the same.

They were successful in neither department, which explains how they wound up losing 9-3 despite matching their opponents' hit total.

Unable to pitch (or field) their way out of several prolonged innings, the Nats allowed the Giants to sustain rallies despite only modest contact and plenty of ground balls. And unable to deliver the clutch hits that were so prevalent only 18 hours earlier, they managed to score only three runs on 11 hits.

It all made for a frustrating way to spend an otherwise gorgeous Saturday afternoon along McCovey Cove, spoiling some of the good vibes from the series-opening win.

Where did this one go wrong? Take your pick. It may have been Joan Adon’s inability to record an out in the fifth, an exceptionally disappointing start for the rookie. Or it may have been the four relievers who somehow were required to record the six outs necessary to complete the fifth and sixth innings, during which six San Francisco runners crossed the plate to not only take the lead but extend it.

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What happened between Soto and Wood on Friday night

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SAN FRANCISCO – By the end of the night, once the Nationals had put the finishing touches on a 14-4 trouncing of the Giants, the little bit of drama that occurred between Juan Soto and Alex Wood three hours earlier had become a footnote. Which is probably for the best, because the last thing these two teams needed was another argument over things like unwritten rules after a somewhat tense series between them last weekend in Washington.

What did happen during and after Soto’s first two at-bats against Wood? It essentially boiled down to a disagreement over how quickly a pitcher should start his delivery once a batter is in the box.

It began in the top of the first, when with an 0-2 count, Soto asked for time a split-second before Wood began throwing his pitch. Plate umpire Scott Barry granted the request, leaving Wood to cut off his delivery in awkward fashion and elicit some boos from the Oracle Park crowd of 38,256.

“I’m usually fairly courteous about letting guys get in the box,” Wood told reporters after the game. “But my job is not to let them feel comfortable, you know? It’s not like a conscious effort where I’m going to throw this pitch as soon as they’re in the box, waiting for them to get into the box, and as soon as you’re in the box, the ball’s live.”

Wood intended to throw a slider, but once time was called, he switched to a fastball. Soto proceeded to blast it 409 feet to center field for a solo homer and a 1-0 lead.

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Game 23 lineups: Nats at Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO – So, was Friday night’s 14-run explosion a sign of things to come, or a mere blip on the radar? We’ll start to get the answer to that question this afternoon when the Nationals take the field again at Oracle Park and try to pick up right where they left off about 14 hours earlier.

The challenge for Davey Martinez’s lineup: Have some success against Giants starter Logan Webb. The Nats did score three runs in 6 2/3 innings off the right-hander Sunday in D.C., but Yadiel Hernandez was responsible for all three of those runs (via an RBI single and a two-run homer). The rest of the batting order did very little against Webb.

Joan Adon opposed Webb that afternoon and struggled early. The rookie gave up two runs apiece in the first and second innings, then another in the fifth before departing. The good news for Adon? He doesn’t have to face Joc Pederson, who homered and doubled off him but now is sidelined with an adductor strain.

Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen are here in San Francisco for the broadcast on MASN2, excited to call their first in-person road game of the season, so be sure to tune in!

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Where: Oracle Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly sunny, 62 degrees, wind 20 mph out to center field

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Nats bats finally bust out in blowout win (updated)

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SAN FRANCISCO – Under no circumstances would a major league manager ever openly admit he’d rather hit the road for a week and a half and leave the comforts of home behind. And let’s be clear, Davey Martinez did no such thing this afternoon when asked (somewhat sarcastically, for the record) if he was actually glad the Nationals got out of D.C. and could now embark on a nine-game West Coast stretch against the Giants, Rockies and Angels.

“Hey, believe me, I love playing at home, I really do. And I know the guys do, too,” said Martinez, whose team had just lost eight consecutive games at home. “We like playing in front of our fans. The week there wasn’t good, but like I said, we saw some good things, and I think we’re really close. We’ve got to hit, though. We all know that, right?”

Yes, it’s tough to win when you don’t hit. But when you do? Oh, man, is it a breath of fresh air. And boy were the Nationals able to breathe in all the cool Bay Area air tonight while beating up on the Giants 14-4 to put an emphatic end to the losing streak and begin this daunting trip in as encouraging a fashion as they could’ve conjured up.

"We showed off what we have in the lineup," said Juan Soto, who homered, singled home another run and drew a walk. "At the end of the day, we're even missing two hitters and we still scored 14 runs. That means we have a lot in our lineup. I think we can do a lot more damage."

That’s right, the same Nationals lineup that totaled 16 runs and 52 hits during those eight consecutive losses while playing on South Capitol Street busted out for a season-high 14 runs and 22 hits tonight at Oracle Park. They didn’t do it by launching the ball into warm, humid air that helped carry it over the fence. No, they did it the old-fashioned way, delivering clutch RBI singles and doubles in sustained fashion for the first time in weeks, just as their manager hoped they would all along.

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Doolittle, Harvey remain in D.C. until cleared to throw

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SAN FRANCISCO – Though Sean Doolittle and Hunter Harvey will be eligible to come off the 10-day injured list this weekend, both relievers remain in Washington as the Nationals open a nine-game West Coast tonight, neither having been cleared to resume throwing yet.

Doolittle (left elbow sprain) went on the IL on April 20, which means he’s eligible to return Saturday. That, of course, won’t happen. The veteran left-hander is working daily at Nationals Park with a physical therapist, trying to get his arm ready to throw again.

The same applies to Harvey (right pronator strain), who went on the IL on April 21 and is eligible to return Sunday. He likewise is working with the physical therapist in D.C., though the right-hander has been itching to start throwing as soon as possible.

Harvey, whose career is littered with injuries both to his arm and nearly every other part of his body, does appear to be closer to picking up a ball again than Doolittle.

“I know that Harvey’s itching to throw already, but we’ve got to be very careful because of his history,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Doolittle, I don’t think he’s going to be ready probably until we get back (from the road trip).”

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Game 22 lineups: Nats at Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO – Nobody’s ever going to say they prefer a nine-game road trip to a 10-game homestand, but this might just be the exception to the rule. After a dismal 2-8 stretch capped with eight consecutive losses in D.C., the Nationals now embark on a three-city West Coast trip against the Giants, Rockies and Angels. It’s a daunting stretch, to be sure, but at this point it can’t be any worse than what just happened, right? (He says cringing.)

The Nats were swept by the Giants last weekend, but San Francisco’s roster will look a little different this time. Joc Pederson, who had a huge series at Nationals Park, is out with an adductor strain. Also there appears to be concern about a COVID-19 outbreak in the home clubhouse, with at least three players impacted so far.

Aaron Sanchez makes his second start for the Nats, each of them coincidentally against the team he pitched for last season. The veteran right-hander was OK in his debut, allowing one run through four innings before hitting a wall in the fifth and ultimately taking a 5-2 loss. Sanchez’s arm should be built up for more than the 64 pitches he threw in that one, so hopefully he can at least complete five innings tonight.

It’s really about the lineup, though, a group that has scored a grand total of 16 runs during this eight-game losing streak. (And even the last game the Nationals won came by the score of 1-0.) Manager Davey Martinez continues to look for some combination that gets things going, but let’s be honest. Nothing’s going to happen until the triumvirate of Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell are all hitting in sync. Soto and Bell have had their moments so far, but Soto has struggled of late. And Cruz continues to search at the plate, hitting a ton of balls into the ground instead of elevating them. He’ll hope to get on track tonight against Giants lefty Alex Wood, who faced Sanchez last weekend and allowed two runs in five innings (one of them on a homer by Riley Adams).

If you didn’t already know, tonight’s game is only on Apple TV+. Here's a link to watch directly on the device you're currently using …

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Fox tries not to think about 0-for-18 slump to begin career

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Lucius Fox thought it about more in previous games than he did Wednesday night. Yes, he knew he remained hitless to begin his big league career. It’s tough not to see those three zeros in succession listed right next to his oversized visage on the scoreboard at Nationals Park every time he steps to the plate. But he didn’t feel as much pressure as he did previously, thanks to a recent conversation with manager Davey Martinez.

Martinez told Fox he, too, knew what it was like to wait a while to record his first career hit. As a rookie outfielder for the Cubs in 1986, he went 0-for-11 before finally getting on the board in his seventh game.

Fox couldn’t believe it.

“Before me and Davey had that conversation, it’s been on my mind quite a bit. Every at-bat, to be honest with you,” he said. “But talking with Davey has instilled confidence in me. Let the game come to you. Don’t chase the game. It made me more relaxed. I’ve had better at-bats and made better contact.”

Maybe so, but Fox still doesn’t have that elusive hit on his major league register. After an 0-for-4 night during Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Marlins, he’s now 0-for-18 overall.

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Punchless lineup sends Nats to seventh straight loss (updated)

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For more than three hours on a blustery, 58-degree, late April night, a crowd of 13,356 sat at Nationals Park and waited for the home ballclub to do something, anything, that might be worthy of a robust reaction.

It didn’t happen while Erick Fedde was on the mound for 4 2/3 laborious innings. It didn’t happen while any of the first four Nationals relievers followed out of the bullpen. And it sure didn’t happen with any Nats at the plate during the first seven innings of lackluster baseball at the park.

And then, finally, a glimmer of a spark. A two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth that featured zero base hits but nonetheless somehow pushed one run across the plate, and brought Yadiel Hernandez to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to deliver the clutch the crowd so desperately wanted.

And when Hernandez blasted Anthony Bender’s slider deep to left-center, everyone in the park reacted as if he had surely just delivered the biggest clutch hit this sport permits. Alas, it was too much to ask for on this night. The ball died in the cold air, caught by center fielder Jesús Sánchez at the warning track and the Nationals were left to wonder what might have been at the end of a 2-1 loss to the Marlins.

"Yadi couldn't do more than what he did," manager Davey Martinez said of Hernandez's 361-foot flyout, which according to Statcast had an expected batting average of .950. "He smoked that ball (at) 107 mph. Sometime soon, those balls will be home runs."

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Strasburg, Ross ready to face live hitters again

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Progress for Stephen Strasburg these days is incremental. Much as everyone would love to know when the right-hander is finally going to make his season debut for the Nationals, nobody really knows the answer yet.

The road to recovery from thoracic outlet surgery, which Strasburg had in late July, is not as clearly defined as the rehab calendar for other more common procedures like Tommy John surgery or to repair a torn rotator cuff.

At this point, any steps are positive steps for Strasburg, who is about to take another important one: After a successful session throwing off a mound today in West Palm Beach, Fla., he is ready to start facing live hitters again.

Strasburg threw 37 pitches during today’s session. Joe Ross, on the same schedule as he returns from early March surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, threw roughly 45 pitches during his session and now is ready to face live hitters as well.

“Both felt good after they threw,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The next plan will be again to get them out there and going to say they’re going to face live hitters. We’ll see how that goes. But they both said they felt good after their bullpens.”

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Game 20 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins

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What happened to that beautiful late spring/early summer weather we were enjoying over the weekend? It’s gone now, with rain Tuesday night and now a cold northerly wind sweeping through town. It’s going to make for a bundle-up kind of evening at the ballpark when the Nationals host the Marlins, seeking to end their six-game losing streak.

If past matchups mean anything, the Nats have a favorable one tonight. Erick Fedde is 4-0 with a 1.43 ERA in seven career starts against the Marlins, including 2-0 with a 1.61 ERA in four head-to-head matchups last season. He could certainly use a good one after getting torched by the Diamondbacks for seven runs (six earned) in only 3 1/3 innings his last time out.

Marlins right-hander Pablo López takes the mound with a league-leading 0.52 ERA in three starts so far this season. He also has been very good against the Nationals, at least over the last two years when he’s gone 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA.

MIAMI MARLINS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 55 degrees, wind 16 mph in from left field

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell
DH Nelson Cruz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
C Keibert Ruiz
CF Lane Thomas
3B Maikel Franco
SS Lucius Fox

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As Escobar flails in D.C., García thrives in Rochester

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At one point Tuesday night, right around the time Alcides Escobar was making one of his four outs during the Nationals’ loss to the Marlins, Luis García was circling the bases in Rochester for the second time.

While Escobar was trying in vain to track down a soft liner hit to his right with two outs in the sixth, García was reaching base for the fifth time in as many plate appearances.

And when the night ended, Escobar was the not-so-proud owner of a .123 batting average and .334 OPS, third-worst among all qualifying major league hitters, while García was sporting a .360 average and 1.020 OPS at Triple-A.

It all begged a simple question: Why isn’t García currently in D.C., regularly playing for the Nationals instead of Escobar?

The answer may not be quite as simple. García may be tearing up the International League at the moment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Nats believe the 21-year-old is ready for everyday duties in the big leagues.

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Baserunning sequence defines Nats' sixth straight loss

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On a night in which Josiah Gray matched his career high with 10 strikeouts and pumped strikes like a man on a mission, the Nationals faced the unenviable task of scoring enough runs off Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara to somehow emerge victorious.

It was a task that required precise execution, the seizing of what few scoring opportunities became available. The kind of challenge you can’t afford to botch by getting a runner thrown out at the plate. Certainly not twice in the span of 60 seconds.

Alas, this is how the Nats opted to squander their one real shot at taking down Alcantara tonight during a 5-2 loss to Miami. They sent six batters to the plate in the bottom of the fourth. Five of them successfully reached base. Only one of them scored. Because two of them were thrown out at the plate, each in cringe-worthy fashion.

There were other reasons the Nationals lost their sixth straight game to fall to 6-13. Gray, for all the positives on this night, also suffered a brief but crushing meltdown in the top of the fourth. Alcides Escobar failed to make another makeable play in the field, leading to another run.

But the bang-your-head-against-the-desk baserunning sequence the Nats put together in the bottom of the fourth represented the defining moment of this ballgame on a rainy Tuesday night in front of an announced crowd of 12,613. It was as ragged a back-to-back series of events as this team has displayed to date in 2022.

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