CINCINNATI – It’s been over a month since the Nationals completed a road series win. They took two out of three in San Francisco on April 28-May 1. They have lost five straight since.
That streak ended today as the Nationals beat the Reds 5-4 in front of 16,380 at Great American Ball Park to win their third straight game and therefore this four-game series.
The first inning had a lot of action this Sunday afternoon. Facing right-hander Luis Castillo, who doesn’t have great career numbers against the Nats, the guys in navy blue were able to jump out to an early lead, something they haven’t done in about a week.
César Hernández walked and Lane Thomas singled to start the game, and Josh Bell drove in both with an RBI double to right field, putting the Nats on the board first for the first time since Monday in New York.
But Patrick Corbin ran into trouble of his own in the bottom of the inning. The Reds’ game plan against the southpaw was clear: Attack the fastball and run on the basepaths.
There was a lot of loud contact in the first off the left-hander. A single, deep flyout, single, back-to-back doubles and a couple of stolen bases put the Reds on top 3-2. Corbin needed 26 pitches to get out of the first with his team down by only one.
"They made a couple of ground balls there," Corbin said after the win. "I thought I made a couple of decent pitches there on some hits. But sometimes they put good swings on it and doesn't go your way. But they were pretty aggressive. We mixed it up. But I think overall, we kind of stuck with everything. Wanted to be aggressive, attack these guys and just make quality pitches.”
However, unlike we’ve seen at times, he settled in after the early barrage and cruised to a quality start. Corbin finished six innings, giving up nine hits and three runs while walking none and striking out five on 91 pitches, 58 for strikes.
"I felt pretty good overall," he said. "They found some holes there in the first. Thought I made a couple of good pitches. They had some good swings there for a couple of hits. But just kind of stuck with our game plan and everything. Got in a really good rhythm there with (catcher Keibert) Ruiz and was able to finish the game strong and put up five zeros.”
The offense put Corbin in line for his second win of the season in the fourth inning with back-to-back RBIs by Luis García (his fifth in the last two days) and Hernández. A 416-foot home run by Maikel Franco in the sixth made it a 5-2 lead.
Franco is now riding a seven-game hitting streak over which he’s batting .393 with a .914 OPS.
“He's staying on the ball," manager Davey Martinez said of Franco. "We talked a lot about him just using the whole field and trying to stay up the middle of the field. He's doing that. And when he does that, he hits the ball hard.”
After Corbin completed his outing, the bullpen slammed the door for the victory. With Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan each having pitched in three of the last four days, Martinez needed to rely on his other relievers for the last three innings.
Victor Arano pitched a shutout inning on 12 pitches in the seventh. Arano returned to the mound in the eighth, but while trying to field a dribbler down the first base line, his left left buckled and he collapsed when he couldn’t pick up the ball. He remained down, and Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard came out to check on him. They looked at Arano's left knee, which is never a good sign with the way he fell. But he was able to walk off the field, albeit with a limp, under his own power.
"We'll see how Arano feels, he's gonna go get an MRI," Martinez said. "We don't know if it's the hamstring or the back of the knee. So it's pretty tender. So we'll see after the MRI what's going on."
Erasmo Ramirez, who was charged with three runs in Thursday’s 8-1 loss, replaced his injured bullpen mate. A comebacker from Tommy Pham struck Ramirez and put two runners on with no outs for Joey Votto.
But Ramirez composed himself. He induced a double play from Votto and, after Tyler Stephenson made it a one-run game with an RBI single to right, a flyout from Kyle Farmer to end the eighth.
With Tanner Rainey having pitched in back-to-back games on 41 pitches, including 27 yesterday, Martinez turned to Steve Cishek, pitching for the first time since Wednesday, for the save.
“Those guys have been pitching a lot lately," Corbin said of the Nats' A bullpen arms. "So for some of those other guys to step up is huge. And there's a lot of experience there with some of those guys. So to have them to come in and keep the lead is huge. And hopefully get those other guys another day off tomorrow and then back out on Tuesday.”
Cishek issued a five-pitch walk to Albert Almora Jr., but got a popup and fly ball for the first two outs.
A single by Nick Senzel put two runners on with two outs, but Ruiz caught him way off the bag for the pickoff. The Reds challenged, because why not at that point? But the call stood and so did the Nationals' victory. Cishek earned his first save of the season.
“Just saw him getting a huge lead from the get-go, from the first pitch, and myself and JB got a look. We looked at each other and put the play on," Ruiz said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "It's one thing that I've been trying to do more of this season. Especially when it's a crucial inning where we have a few runners on, to try to get us out of the inning. And it's something I'm gonna keep doing and keep going down if I'm able to.”
"Keibert and Josh, they work on that stuff," Davey Martinez said. "Perfect timing. It was a great play. Good heads-up play by Keibert and Josh Bell to get us out of that last inning.”
The Nats leave Cincinnati with three straight wins. They weren't always easy, but they're still wins.
“Outstanding," Davey Martinez said of his team's resilience. "After giving up three, Patrick settled down, gave us some big innings there. That last inning, he came out and we needed that inning. Our bullpen was a little beat up. As you can see, we closed with Cishek, but the bullpen did a great job."
The road momentum may have shifted this weekend for the Nationals (21-35), who will now head to Miami, where they lost two of three just three weeks ago.
“It was a good win today, especially with the status of where we're at," Davey Martinez said. "Let's go have a good day off when we get to Miami. Have a good day off tomorrow and come back Tuesday and keep it going.”
* On the farm, Cole Henry made an impressive Triple-A debut at Rochester. The Nationals’ No. 3 prospect pitched five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out three. He threw 57 pitches, 36 for strikes.
That makes back-to-back strong outings by the Nats’ top two pitching prospects after Cade Cavalli stuck out 10 and allowed just one run in seven innings yesterday, a complete game in the first half of a doubleheader.
* Shoutout to the University of Maryland baseball team. The Terps rallied for a 10-5 win over Wake Forest in an elimination game of the regional tournament in College Park.
Tonight they will face UConn, who beat the Terrapins 10-5 last night, with a chance to advance to Monday's regional final. Win or lose, this team has made this alum very proud.
It was a good weekend for DMV baseball!
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