Nats can't touch Kelly, drop opener in Arizona (updated)

CJ Abrams Geraldo Perdomo

PHOENIX – Even on an unseasonably cool, 79-degree evening in these parts, the ball always flies well at Chase Field, especially when the roof and outfield panels are open. A power-starved Nationals lineup took the field tonight hoping to take advantage of that in its series opener against the Diamondbacks and throughout the weekend.

Alas, one must actually make contact to have a chance to hit the ball out of any park. And on this night against Merrill Kelly, that seemingly simple task proved far too difficult for the Nats.

Behind a 10-strikeout performance from their right-hander, the Diamondbacks emerged victorious, 3-1, the Nationals once again unable to provide much run support for star-crossed starter Josiah Gray.

Gray wasn’t in peak form tonight, allowing three runs over five innings. But he would’ve needed to be perfect to best Kelly, who had the Nats eating out of his hand.

Even Keibert Ruiz, the best contact hitter on the team and one of the best in the majors, couldn’t get the bat on the ball. The young catcher struck out in all three of his plate appearances against Kelly, his first three-strikeout game this season and only the third of his career.

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Healthy Harvey appreciates chance to pitch three straight days

harvey throws gray

PHOENIX – Hunter Harvey understands why people will immediately make the connection, believing he blew the Nationals’ 3-0 lead in the eighth inning Thursday because he was pitching for the third straight day for the first time in his career.

The Nationals reliever insists there was no connection between those two facts.

“No, I don’t think it had anything to do with being the third day,” he said. “I just didn’t execute. That could happen when you’re fresh or when you’re not fresh.”

Harvey had already pitched Tuesday, recording five big outs on 21 pitches to help lead the Nationals to victory over the Cubs. He had also pitched Wednesday, tossing a scoreless eighth on 14 pitches to preserve his team’s 2-1 lead and eventual victory.

Through it all, the 28-year-old right-hander felt strong. And when it came time to inform manager Davey Martinez about his availability for Thursday’s game, he didn’t hesitate to offer his services if the situation called for it.

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Game 32 lineups: Nats at Diamondbacks

josiah gray throws white

PHOENIX – Hello from the Valley of the Sun, where the temperature is only topping out in the 80s this weekend. Which means the roof at Chase Field will be open both tonight and Saturday. Around here, that’s a huge win.

Speaking of huge wins, the Nationals are coming off a big one over the Cubs to cap a solid homestand. They’ll try to keep their winning ways alive on the road, where they’ve been a much better team so far this season.

The good news: They’ve got Josiah Gray on the mound for tonight’s series opener against the Diamondbacks. The bad news: They almost certainly don’t have either Hunter Harvey or Kyle Finnegan in their bullpen after those guys each pitched the last three days. Quality innings from Gray will be key tonight, and then someone else from Davey Martinez’s bullpen will have to close it out.

A lineup that started to show signs of power back home will hope for more of that in the warm, dry air here. This has always been a good hitter’s park, and it’s even more so when the roof is open. The Nats will try to hit some balls in the air tonight against Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly.

Where: Chase Field
Gametime: 9:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Clear, 79 degrees, wind 12 mph left field to right field

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Finnegan going back to the ground to close out wins

Kyle Finnegan Dominic Smith five white

With two on and nobody out in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, Kyle Finnegan’s thoughts hearkened back 12 days prior, when he faced an identical situation and lived to tell about that.

That cold night in Minnesota, Finnegan pitched his way out of a jam by getting a lineout and then a 5-4-3 double play, preserving a one-run victory for the Nationals. This time, he pulled it off thanks to a fielder’s choice on a bunt, then a 6-4-3 double play, preserving another one-run victory.

“I found myself there a couple times before this year,” Finnegan said. “Knowing that I’ve gotten out of it before helps a lot. And we’ve been turning so many double plays behind us, you know you’re never really out of it.”

Look at Finnegan’s 2023 totals to date, and it’s easy to believe he’s having a disastrous season. His ERA is 6.00. His WHIP is 1.583. He has surrendered three homers in only 12 innings.

That doesn’t accurately reflect his true performance to date, though. Most of those lofty numbers were the direct result of one awful appearance on April 4 against the Rays, when he was roughed up for five runs while recording only one out, surrendering all three of those homers.

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Nats bolster Irvin's solid debut with 2-1 win over Cubs (updated)


Jake Irvin did his part in his major league debut to give the Nationals a chance to win. His teammates then did just enough to actually emerge with the win.

CJ Abrams drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh for the second straight night, and the Nats bullpen tossed 4 2/3 innings of scoreless ball following Irvin’s solid-if-abbreviated first career start to beat the Cubs, 2-1, and ensure at least a split of this four-game series.

Called up from Triple-A Rochester to make his debut five years after the organization selected him from the University of Oklahoma in the fourth round of the draft, Irvin survived some occasionally erratic command to hold Chicago’s lineup to one run before departing with one out in the fifth.

The 26-year-old right-hander was rated the Nationals’ 20th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He wound up outperforming several far more highly touted pitchers who have come and gone over the years, and gave club officials enough reason to want to see more of him.

"This is something you dream of since the day you pick up a baseball," he said. "I'm on top of the world. And props to the team, man. The guys played great behind me."

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Vargas returns from IL, Downs optioned to Triple-A

vargas grimace at plate blue

The Nationals have their utility man back in the dugout tonight, with Ildemaro Vargas activated from the 10-day injured list about 3 1/2 weeks after he jammed his left shoulder making a diving play in the field.

Vargas rejoins the team after a brief rehab stint with Triple-A Rochester, where he appeared in three games and went 1-for-10 at the plate.

“I watched some of his swings last night,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I know he struck out, but he hit some balls hard. He felt good. He said he had no pain whatsoever.”

The 31-year-old infielder hurt himself April 9 in Colorado when he jammed his shoulder while making a play at second base against the Rockies. He finished the game but was in significant pain the following day, so the Nationals placed him on the IL and called up Jeter Downs to fill his role on the bench.

Downs, 24, wound up appearing in only one game during his three weeks on the big league roster, and that came late in Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Pirates. A onetime top prospect of the Dodgers and Red Sox, he was claimed off waivers this winter by the Nationals, who intended to have him play every day at Triple-A and see if he could recapture the form that made him so coveted he was a key piece in the trade that sent Mookie Betts from Boston to Los Angeles.

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Game 30 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

Joey Meneses fives white

There’s nothing quite like a major league debut, especially when the guy debuting is a starting pitcher. No, Jake Irvin isn’t a top prospect in the Nationals organization, and his start tonight isn’t as significant as Cade Cavalli’s debut last summer. But it’s still a big deal for any pitcher who was drafted, developed and moved up the organizational ladder to see his dream come true and start a big league game.

Irvin is no kid; he’s 26 years old, drafted in the fourth round in 2018 out of the University of Oklahoma (where he was teammates with Cavalli, by the way). He missed the 2021 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but was healthy throughout the 2022 campaign, reaching Double-A Harrisburg. The Nats added him to the 40-man roster this winter, and now they’ve called him up after five starts at Triple-A Rochester.

Irvin isn’t the only addition to the Nationals’ roster for tonight’s game. Infielder Ildemaro Vargas has been activated off the 10-day injured list, his left shoulder now healed. To make room for both players, Jeter Downs and Cory Abbott were optioned back to Rochester.

The Nats will be looking to make it two in a row against the Cubs, who have veteran Marcus Stroman on the mound. The 32-year-old right-hander has been excellent so far, with a 2.29 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP through his first six starts of the season.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Chance of rain, 53 degrees, wind 14 mph left field to right field

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Irvin gets chance to end Nats' long streak of winless debuts


When it came time to decide who to summon from their farm system to start tonight’s game against the Cubs, the Nationals had options. They could’ve gone with someone with considerable big league experience (Wily Peralta), modest big league experience (Paolo Espino) or minimal big league experience (Cory Abbott, Joan Adon).

In the end, they went with zero big league experience.

That’s right, when they take the field this evening, the Nationals will be led by Jake Irvin, a 26-year-old right-hander making his major league debut. It’s a debut most assumed would come sometime this season but few figured would come this soon.

“His last outing, he pitched really well,” said manager Davey Martinez, referencing the two runs Irvin allowed in 5 1/3 innings for Triple-A Rochester one week ago. “He’s stretched out to about 90 pitches. So we’re going to give him an opportunity to come out here and start for us tomorrow, and see what he does and see where he goes.”

A fourth round pick in the 2018 draft out of Oklahoma – where he was rotation mates with 2020 first round pick Cade Cavalli – Irvin is the organization’s 20th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He missed all of the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery and split last season between Single-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg.

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Nats ditch small ball, swing away to beat Cubs (updated)


One-plus months into this season, Davey Martinez’s offensive philosophy has become pretty well established, certainly when it comes to his regular 8-9-1 hitters: If CJ Abrams gets on base and there’s an opportunity to play for one run, Victor Robles and/or Alex Call will probably be asked to bunt.

It happened twice tonight, in both the third and fifth innings, and the end result of all that was one run. One that was made possible only because of an error on Robles’ sacrifice bunt attempt in the third.

As such, when Abrams, Robles and Call came back to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, this game was now tied. This time, each was allowed to swing away. And lo and behold, would you guess what happened next? Each delivered a clutch hit, combining to drive in three runs and propel the Nationals to a cathartic, 4-1 victory over the Cubs.

"It's nice to bunt, but you think about giving up outs," Martinez said when asked what made the strategy in the seventh different from the third and fifth. "At that particular moment in the seventh, I said: Hey man, we need to put some runs on the board. And they're swinging the bats well. So you give them a chance to swing. And they came through, which was awesome."

Abrams’ single to right, which brought Dominic Smith home from second, provided the go-ahead RBI. Robles’ infield single, a sharp chopper to third that ate up Patrick Wisdom, kept the rally going. And Call’s double to the gap in left-center brought both of his teammates home and provided the entire dugout reason to celebrate a three-run rally.

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Nats still waiting to announce Wednesday starter

Adon throwing gray

The identity of the Nationals’ starting pitcher for Wednesday’s game against the Cubs remains a mystery, but Davey Martinez insists the big reveal is coming.

“We’ll announce it after the game,” the manager said this afternoon. “Let’s get through today first.”

Here’s what we do know:

* The Nationals already needed a fill-in starter to account for Friday’s rainout and Saturday’s doubleheader, which created six games in five days on the schedule.

* They’ll need to account for more than just a fill-in start after Chad Kuhl landed on the 15-day injured list with a right foot ailment, though Kuhl’s spot in the rotation won’t come up until Monday in San Francisco.

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Game 29 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

abrams k opening day 2023

On the heels of an impressive 4-2 road trip to Minnesota and New York, the Nationals have sputtered back home. They’re currently 1-3 against the Pirates and Cubs and in danger of assuring another losing homestand if they can’t get things together quickly.

A victory tonight would certainly help. And some offense would certainly help make that more possible.

The Nats were held to one run on six hits Monday night by Drew Smyly and a couple of relievers. They’ll need to be better against Hayden Wesneski, who enters with a 5.24 ERA but has actually pitched quite well in two of his last three starts. The 25-year-old right-hander held the Athletics to one run over seven innings, then held the Padres to one run over five innings last week. He’s averaging only 75.8 pitches per start, so he probably won’t be around too long tonight, if the Nats can make him work a bit.

Trevor Williams gets the ball for the Nationals, facing one of his former teams for the second straight outing. The right-hander had maybe the worst of his starts to date in New York last week, allowing four runs on nine hits over five innings, a performance that kind of got lost in the shuffle because of CJ Abrams’ late grand slam and Mason Thompson's struggles after that during a 9-8 loss to the Mets.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Chance of rain, 56 degrees, wind 11 mph left field to right field

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Dickerson still not running, Kieboom ready for rehab assignment

Carter Kieboom

No two players recover from the same injury in the same amount of time. Sometimes, one player doesn’t recover from the same injury suffered twice in the same amount of time.

At the moment, though, it’s taking a few members of the Nationals organization longer to return from the injured list as anyone probably hoped when the season began.

Atop that list is Corey Dickerson, the veteran outfielder who strained his left calf April 1 and doesn’t appear close to coming back.

Dickerson, signed over the winter for $2.25 million to be the Nationals’ starting left fielder, hurt himself in the second game of the season and hasn’t made it back yet. Though he has been able to hit and playing with no issues, he has not been cleared to run yet.

“This is recurring for him: He did it last year,” manager Davey Martinez said. “This is the same spot. So we want to make sure it’s completely gone.”

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Gore roughed up early in loss to Cubs (updated)


On the heels of an eye-opening, 10-strikeout dismantling of the Mets last week, and in the wake of Josiah Gray’s latest impressive start Sunday afternoon, MacKenzie Gore took the mound at Nationals Park tonight with a good chunk of those in attendance expecting another good start.

When it didn’t happen, it didn’t necessarily shock anyone. But it was disappointing nonetheless, which perhaps is as good an indication as anything how high Gore has set the bar in his first month pitching for this organization.

During a 5-1 loss to the Cubs, Gore lasted only three batters into the fifth inning. He allowed four runs, surrendered seven hits, walked two and threw a whopping 102 pitches.

"You don't expect him to get hit," first baseman Dominic Smith said. "You can't take away anything from (the Cubs). They played well tonight. But I still would take MacKenzie 10 out of 10 times. He knows what he can do. We know what he can do. He's going to make probably 25 more starts. I'm pretty sure he's going to be dialed in for all of those."

Though Smith did his part with three hits, the rest of the Nationals didn’t exactly provide a lot of support for their starter. They managed only six hits off Cubs left-hander Drew Smyly and too often made outs on three or fewer pitches, rarely giving Gore time to catch his breath in the dugout before re-taking the mound.

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Kuhl goes on IL with foot injury, Abbott called up

cory abbott pitches red

The Nationals placed Chad Kuhl on the 15-day injured list with an injury to his right foot and recalled Cory Abbott from Triple-A Rochester to take his spot on the active roster and potentially his spot in the rotation.

Kuhl hurt himself during Saturday night’s game while delivering a pitch, stepping into the divot on the mound created by Pirates pitcher Vince Velásquez and causing a shooting pain in his big toe. Manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard came out from the dugout to check on him, but Kuhl threw one warm-up pitch and said he was fine to continue.

He wound up being removed in the fourth inning, having thrown 100 pitches while getting roughed up for eight runs on seven hits and four walks in what wound up a 16-1 blowout loss.

“It’s one of those things where I was like: I tore my elbow (in 2018) and finished the inning. I’m not going to let my toe derail the start and have me only go two innings,” he said. “It’s something you just try to fight through. It ended up not working out too great for me anyway, but I did my best to keep getting outs. It’s just unfortunate.”

Kuhl’s toe was still bothering him Sunday, so he was examined by doctors, who diagnosed with him with metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of the foot), leading to this IL stint.

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Game 28 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

Joey Meneses fives white

One month into the season, we can pretty much divide Nationals games into two categories: Games started by Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, and games started by everyone else. That doesn’t mean those other games haven’t been interesting, or that the others haven’t pitched well at times. But clearly Gray and Gore starts are the most significant events this team has right now, and most of them have lived up to the hype.

Gray did his part Sunday, allowing one run over six innings to defeat the Pirates. Gore gets his shot tonight when he takes the mound for the series opener against the Cubs. The lefty is coming off a dominant outing in New York in which he struck out 10 and allowed only one run in six innings. Gore faces a new challenge tonight in a Chicago lineup that leads the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, while ranking second in runs scored.

The Nats lineup will hope to have some success against left-hander Drew Smyly, who nearly made some major history himself two starts ago when he carried a perfect game against the Dodgers into the eighth inning until it was broken up by a little dribbler in front of the mound and Yan Gomes’ inexplicable decision to bowl over his pitcher in pursuit of the ball.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Chance of rain, 58 degrees, wind 13 mph out to center field

LF Alex Call
2B Luis García
3B Jeimer Candelario
DH Joey Meneses
C Keibert Ruiz
RF Lane Thomas
1B Dominic Smith
CF Victor Robles
SS CJ Abrams

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Adams makes most of rare start behind plate

Riley Adams

It’s either the best or the worst job in baseball, serving as the backup to a No. 1 catcher who plays almost every day. For Riley Adams, it’s reality right now.

With Keibert Ruiz starting as many games behind the plate as any catcher in the majors, Adams is left to watch from the bench. He starts roughly once a week – officially four times in the Nationals’ first 27 games – but has to keep himself physically and mentally ready in case his services are needed at a moment’s notice.

And then he has to actually produce when given the opportunity, no matter how little opportunity he’s had to establish any kind of rhythm.

Given all that, Adams’ performance Saturday afternoon was both notable and impressive. Catching the first half of the Nationals’ doubleheader against the Pirates, he went 2-for-4 with a two-run double while also throwing out a runner trying to steal second off him.

“He did awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He threw the ball down, we got a big out on the stolen base. And he swung the bat well, too. It was awesome. He had a good day.”

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Gray wraps up strong April with win over Pirates (updated)

josiah gray throws white

Josiah Gray was standing alone in right field around 1 p.m., going through his pregame stretch routine and preparing to enter the bullpen to begin warming up for he expected to be a 1:35 p.m. first pitch at Nationals Park.

And then the rain began falling, and all of a sudden people were huddling up and yelling across the field to others to halt all game prep and head back indoors, the start of the game now delayed.

Gray would return to the Nationals clubhouse and remain there for 2 1/2 hours before finally emerging again to start the routine all over again. Then he made sure the long wait was worth it, authoring another quality start to complete a most impressive opening month to what could be a breakthrough season.

With six innings of one-run ball against the red-hot Pirates, Gray made another statement in an April filled with them. The 25-year-old right-hander, with some much-appreciated run support from his teammates, led the Nats to a 7-2 victory over Pittsburgh to avoid a sweep at the end of a long weekend that featured as much rain as baseball.

"He's been unbelievable, since spring training," manager Davey Martinez said. "His routine, the way he's going about his business, the way he's mapping out the game plan ... that's just a testament to what he wants to do. And right now, he's doing unbelievable."

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Machado replaces ineffective Banda in bullpen

andres machado throws white

On the heels of a doubleheader sweep that taxed their bullpen, the Nationals made their first performance-based roster move of the season this morning, designating Anthony Banda for assignment and purchasing Andrés Machado’s contract from Triple-A Rochester.

The transaction gives the Nats a fresh arm who can throw multiple innings today if needed in Machado, who threw 26 pitches for the Red Wings on Friday but did not appear in Saturday’s game. The 30-year-old had a 2.92 ERA, 1.216 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings to begin his season.

No stranger to the Nationals bullpen, Machado owns a 3.41 ERA and 1.326 WHIP in 91 relief appearances over the last two seasons. He closed out his 2022 campaign with zero earned runs allowed over his final 19 2/3 innings, but the Nats dropped him from their 40-man roster in January because he was out of options and they needed to open a spot for recently signed outfielder Corey Dickerson.

Machado cleared waivers, though, and re-signed with the Nationals on a minor league deal a week later. He performed well in spring training, allowing only two batters to reach base in four Grapefruit League innings sandwiched around his stint pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but his contract status left him to open the season at Triple-A instead of the majors.

Throughout the process, manager Davey Martinez assured the right-hander he would be back in D.C. sooner rather than later. His time came today with the departure of Banda, who struggled throughout the season’s first month.

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Game 27 lineups: Nats vs. Pirates

josiah gray pitches cherry

You won’t believe this, but it’s raining again here in the nation’s capital. I know, I know. Nobody could’ve predicted that. Actually, everyone predicted it, and that’s why today’s series finale between the Nationals and Pirates is very much up in the air. The problem: This is the Pirates’ only trip here this season, so they have to do everything they can to try to play this game today, lest they make them make another trip here on a common off-day later in the year.

The Nats desperately need a quality start from Josiah Gray after a doubleheader mess Saturday in which Davey Martinez had to burn up most of his bullpen. Gray has been very good, of course, since his first start of the season. He’ll be challenged to hold down this surprisingly potent Pittsburgh lineup, though, today.

The Nats also desperately need some production from a lineup that scored four total runs in 18 innings Saturday (and one of those was Dominic Smith’s garbage-time homer in the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing 16-0). They’ll face a tough right-hander in Johan Oviedo, who enters with a 3.03 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Rain, 61 degrees, wind 7 mph in from right field

LF Alex Call
2B Luis García
C Keibert Ruiz
DH Joey Meneses
3B Jeimer Candelario
1B Dominic Smith
RF Lane Thomas
SS CJ Abrams
CF Victor Robles

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Nats trounced in doubleheader finale (updated)


Facing a one-run deficit in this afternoon’s doubleheader opener, Davey Martinez opted not to use his best relievers, saving them for what he hoped would be a winnable game in the nightcap.

In order for that to happen, though, the Nationals were going to need to get a quality pitching performance from starter Chad Kuhl, not to mention some production from a lineup that failed to capitalize on a host of opportunities earlier in the day.

So when neither of those outcomes materialized, Martinez’s best-laid plans went down the drain. Kyle Finnegan and Mason Thompson could only watch from the bullpen as the Nats slogged their way through a 16-1 trouncing at the hands of the Pirates, by far their most lopsided loss of the season.

A homestand that began with the promise of better baseball following an impressive 4-2 road trip to Minnesota and New York instead has opened with a Friday night rainout, then a doubleheader sweep that leaves the Nationals trying to salvage one game in Sunday’s finale, which could be significantly delayed due to another round of rain.

Not exactly the kind of weekend everyone around here had in mind.

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