Bullpen can't back up solid Williams start in loss to Guardians (updated)

Carl Edwards Jr. has been one of the strongest relievers the Nationals have had over the past year. After signing a minor league deal and making the major league roster last May, the right-hander gave up three runs in his Nats debut and vowed he would be better.

He would go on to pitch to a 2.76 ERA over 57 games in 2022 and return this year as one of the back-end bullpen arms. He began the night allowing only one run in six innings.

But Edwards had one of those rough outings, leading to a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Guardians in front of an announced crowd of 21,367 at Nationals Park.

Edwards entered a 3-2 game with two outs in the seventh and the bases loaded. It only took Edwards five pitches to walk in the tying run. He then got a popup to finally end the frame.

Back out for the eighth, he looked all out of sorts. He couldn’t handle an easy comebacker and thus allowed the leadoff runner to reach first before former teammate Josh Bell hit a double to the same spot he had homered to the inning prior. Edwards then surrendered the go-ahead RBI via a groundout, and although the run was unearned, it was made possible by his own fielding error.

“I know he tried to throw some elevated fastballs to (José) Ramírez and just threw too high,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He got some guys to really take some bad swings on the ball hit right at him. All he had to do was pick it up and throw to first. It just didn't happen. And then the dribbler. Like I said, these guys have been really good back there, they really have. So we got to forget about today and come back tomorrow and go 1-0.”

Before Edwards entered the game, Hunter Harvey returned for the top of the seventh and gave up a leadoff home run to Bell, his first with his new team. A base hit and a stolen base followed, but Harvey recorded back-to-back strikeouts to be on the verge of getting out of the inning. But he followed that with back-to-back walks to load the bases and bring Edwards in from the ‘pen.

“I didn't make pitches,” Harvey said. "I made a bad pitch to Bell, he hit it. Walked guys. You can't do that. ... I just didn't make pitches.”

The bullpen malfunction was a shame because Trevor Williams had found a nice groove against the Guardians lineup. With his five-pitch arsenal, he threw to a lot of weak contact: He induced nine infield outs with two strikeouts through his first five innings.

He did play with fire with two outs, however. He issued a two-out walk in the first, and a two-out double and walk in the second. But neither threat came back to bite him as he kept the Guardians scoreless through those frames.

Entering the sixth at 81 pitches, Williams couldn’t record an out, giving up a double (that actually was misplayed by Victor Robles in center) and a single to put runners on the corners and summon Davey Martinez from the dugout.

“I think overall we did great,” Williams said. “I want to finish things when I go out there. That's twice now pitching into the sixth and haven't gotten that third out in the sixth. So that's just something to carry over into the next start.”

But a great stop to turn a double play by CJ Abrams and a nice strikeout by Harvey limited the visitors to one run, making it just a 3-1 game. But the young shortstop made a mistake by running into an out from second on a ground ball to third, one of the few baserunning mishaps made by the Nats in the young season.

“We played good for six innings,” Martinez said. “And then misplayed ball, a few walks, a baserunning mistake. Next thing you know, we're down 4-3. It's tough to lose the game like that when you're up 3-0 and you've got your bullpen out there that's been rock solid.”

The Nationals have been in search of some power. They know they’re not going to lead the major leagues in home runs. That’s not who they are as a team. But a little pop every now and then would be helpful.

Coming into tonight’s opener against the Guardians, the Nationals had scored two runs or fewer in seven of their first 13 games, all losses. They were 4-2 when scoring four or more runs. They were also last in the majors with just five home runs.

They barely eclipsed that two-run threshold and added a longball, but that wasn't enough to earn a win as they fell to 4-3 when scoring more than two runs.

Luis García hit his first homer of the season in the fourth inning on a 93.4 mph sinker from Guardians starter Cal Quantrill right down the middle of the plate. The left-handed second baseman didn’t miss the easy offering, hitting it 400 feet into the red seats in center field 106.7 mph off the bat.

“First of all, I'd like to thank God for giving me the day he blessed me with today,” García said of his homer, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “And thanks to him that I was able to hit that ball as well as I did and I felt very good today at the plate. I felt under control. I felt my body was under control and I was able to see pitches very well.

For a while, it didn’t look like the Nats were going to get much off Quantrill, who entered this start with a 6.52 ERA and a 1.862 WHIP over his first two starts. They went 1-2-3 in the first and third innings and left the bases loaded in the second.

But García’s homer kicked off a three-run fourth for the home side. Keibert Ruiz (who had his red seat installed in section 234 today to commemorate his 407-foot homer into the upper deck April 1 against the Braves) and Lane Thomas followed with back-to-back hits. Abrams then reached to load the bases when José Ramírez couldn’t make an accurate throw to second. And then two batters later, Alex Call delivered a two-run single to make it a 3-0 lead.

The Nationals again couldn’t come up with more clutch hits late in the game, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 on base.

“We gotta do a better job of hitting with runners in scoring position. We really do,” Davey Martinez said. “It's just not happening. We could blow the game open early, get some runs across the board. So we gotta get better at that.”

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