Abrams, Thomas both out of lineup; Gore likely to start Friday

abrams tag v PHI cherry

CJ Abrams has missed only 12 games this season. Lane Thomas has missed only five. Tonight, the Nationals will be without both stalwarts for the first time in 2023.

Davey Martinez’s lineup card for the series opener against the Mets doesn’t look like any previous one he has submitted this season. Rookie Jacob Young is leading off, with Joey Meneses batting second, Keibert Ruiz slotted third and Riley Adams hitting cleanup for the first time in his career.

Such is the byproduct of a lineup missing the team’s usual No. 1 and No. 2 hitter.

Abrams’ day off was scheduled, according to Martinez, who noted how the 22-year-old shortstop has looked worn down in the last week as a tough schedule and the reality of September baseball converged.

“The way he plays the game, he’s constantly using his legs,” Martinez said. “He plays a premium position. He’s constantly running, on his feet, stealing bases. He’s been doing a lot of things, diving everywhere. I just felt like over the last few days – and the fact it’s going to be so hot – having a day off yesterday and a day off today could reset him a little bit.”

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Game 139 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

Joey Meneses blue home

The Nationals don’t have to face the Marlins anymore this season, and if that isn’t cause for celebration, what is? Tonight they open a two-game series with the Mets, the last time they’ll face New York this year. A sweep would give the Nats the season series at 7-6; one loss would give it to the Mets (if you care about such things).

This would’ve been MacKenzie Gore’s turn in the rotation, but the Nationals are giving the left-hander time to get himself ready after returning today from bereavement leave. (Joe La Sorsa was optioned to Triple-A Rochester.) So it’s Patrick Corbin on the mound, well rested himself because his last start came Wednesday in Toronto.

The Nats face a very different Mets rotation from the last one they faced, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander now due to pitch against each other Wednesday night in a huge showdown between the Rangers and Astros. It’ll be Jose Quintana for New York tonight; the veteran lefty has not faced the Nationals yet during an injury-plagued season.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 92 degrees, wind 6 mph in from center field

CF Jacob Young
1B Joey Meneses
C Keibert Ruiz
DH Riley Adams
3B Carter Kieboom
SS Ildemaro Vargas
LF Travis Blankenhorn
RF Alex Call
2B Jake Alu

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Top prospects still have work to do in minors

James Wood futures game

If you’re of the belief the Nationals could exceed expectations and be a surprise wild card contender next year, you’re probably also of the belief Dylan Crews and James Wood, plus perhaps Brady House and Robert Hassell III, are going to play a big role in the club’s ascension.

That may very well become reality. Any or all of those top prospects could make his major league debut in 2024 and make an immediate impact for a lineup that could use some more thump to go along with CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz and Lane Thomas.

But it’s also entirely possible none of that happens. Before any of those prospects can become contributors in D.C., they need to actually make it to D.C. And before any of them can do that, they need to actually have success in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

At this moment, all are underwhelming at Double-A Harrisburg to some extent.

Wood, widely believed to be closest to major-league-ready of this group, has mashed 16 homers and driven in 46 runs in 76 games at Double-A. That’s good. His .223 batting average and .315 on-base percentage are less good. And his 109 strikeouts in 324 plate appearances really aren’t good.

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Tiring Nats trying not to look ahead to finish line yet

CJ Abrams

It’s only human nature to look at a calendar these days, see the word “September” in big, bold letters across the top and start thinking about the end of the 2023 season fast approaching.

Which is exactly the kind of mindset that will get a young ballclub in trouble.

“I think it’s very easy to look at the finish line and not worry about what’s at hand,” Lane Thomas said.

Were the Nationals doing that over the weekend when they were swept by the Marlins in a four-game series? Were they already counting down the days until they head home for the winter, feeling like they’ve already accomplished what they’re going to accomplish this year, no matter what still takes place the rest of the way?

The on-field results certainly lend some credence to that theory. It’s not that the Nationals got swept by Miami, or that they’ve now lost five in a row after an impressive 17-9 run through the bulk of August. It’s how they looked as they got swept.

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Gray labors early, Nats lose late again to Marlins (updated)


If the last week of baseball represented a slow devolve of what had been an uplifting summer for the Nationals, the top of the first inning this afternoon was undoubtedly the low point.

Josiah Gray looked simultaneously lost and irate on the mound after a ragged opening frame that seemed to spell certain doom for the right-hander and his team against a Marlins club that has owned them the last two seasons.

But Gray figured things out just enough to stop the bleeding, and when his teammates rallied to tie the game against Sandy Alcantara, it looked like the weekend might just be salvaged. Until a sloppy top of the ninth spoiled everything and sent the Nats to yet another loss against Miami.

The Marlins scored two runs off closer Kyle Finnegan via two singles, a throwing error and another bloop single, taking a 6-4 lead they would hold in the bottom of the inning to secure the victory on a sweltering Sunday afternoon on South Capitol Street.

Asked to keep the game tied, Finnegan wound up taking his first loss since June 9. He got himself in trouble with a pair of singles sandwiched around a strikeout of Josh Bell, then watched the go-ahead run score on an ill-advised defensive play.

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Gore's next start pushed back due to bereavement leave

gore pitches blue

MacKenzie Gore will remain on bereavement leave and miss his next scheduled turn through the rotation.

Gore, who would’ve been on turn to start Tuesday against the Mets, went on bereavement leave Thursday. Manager Davey Martinez said today the left-hander won’t be back in time to make that start and instead will be pushed to a later date.

“When he comes back, we’ll figure out where he’s at,” Martinez said. “I want him to go through his routine, and then we’ll figure out where to plop him. If we have to back off a couple guys a little bit, that would actually be a good thing if we can put him in the middle of those guys. We’ll see how he feels when he gets back.”

Though the circumstances that led to this weren’t intended, the Nationals did want to find a way to give Gore some extra time off down the stretch of his first full big league season. The 24-year-old has totaled 132 1/3 innings, most in his professional career by a significant amount. His previous high was 101 innings in 2019 as a minor leaguer with the Padres. He totaled only 87 innings between the majors and minors last season while missing time with an elbow injury.

Gore last pitched Tuesday in Toronto, allowing one run over five innings but needing 106 pitches to do it. With Patrick Corbin and Joan Adon now scheduled to start a two-game series against the Mets that includes off-days on both the front and back ends, Gore will wind up getting at least 10 days of rest before potentially returning to the mound next weekend against the Dodgers.

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Game 138 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins

ruiz celebrates cherry

Here’s some good news for you on this Sunday morning: This is the last time the Nationals will face the Marlins this season. Here’s some bad news: They’ve got to face Sandy Alcantara in today’s series finale, trying to avoid a four-game sweep and trying to avoid falling to 2-11 against Miami this year.

Alcantara isn’t having a Cy Young season; he’s 6-12 with a 4.23 ERA. And the Nats did hit him around the only time they faced him this year, scoring five runs on 10 hits back on June 16. They’ve got a very different lineup right now, though, with several young players who have never faced the electric right-hander before. We’ll see how they fare against him.

Josiah Gray gets the start for the Nationals, and this is an important one for him, no matter the opponent. Gray lasted only two innings in Toronto on Monday night, pulled after throwing a whopping 63 pitches. He has not been the same guy he was in the first half of the season, and he’s suddenly in danger of seeing all the good things he did earlier get lost in the shuffle with a rough finish. A bounceback performance today against a Miami team he held to one earned run over seven innings back in June would be wonderful.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Sunny, 91 degrees, wind 7 mph out to right field

SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas
DH Keibert Ruiz
LF Travis Blankenhorn
2B Jake Alu
3B Ildemaro Vargas
1B Dominic Smith
C Drew Millas
CF Jacob Young

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Williams blasted in Nats' latest loss to Marlins (updated)


The Nationals signed Trevor Williams in December to help stabilize the back of their rotation, enticing the veteran right-hander with a two-year, $13 million deal after he had success as a swingman for the Mets.

The thinking: Williams could provide valuable innings for a rotation that was short on proven arms, then potentially transition to the bullpen if enough young starters established their worth.

As the season enters its final weeks, Williams’ performance suggests his hold on a starting job should be tenuous. But without enough young alternatives presenting themselves, the Nats may have no choice but to just stick with the struggling right-hander the way Davey Martinez stuck with him today during a disastrous outing.

Williams was battered around Nationals Park by a Marlins lineup that launched four homers off him in the span of four innings en route to an 11-5 blowout that spoiled an otherwise splendid September Saturday afternoon at the yard.

The homers kept getting more damaging, from a pair of seemingly harmless solo shots to a pair of three-run blasts that put the game out of reach no matter how many outs still needed to be recorded.

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Longtime international scouting director DiPuglia resigns


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


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.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
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.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
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)


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

gray dugout

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.

Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 3:07 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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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