García, Nats sloppy in early loss to Astros: "That can't happen" (updated)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The long weekend continued Saturday for the Nationals. After last night’s “weird game” against the Cardinals, they got ready for a split doubleheader against the Astros (as the away team) and Marlins (as the home team) at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches.

The early morning and quick turnaround didn’t work out well for the boys in navy blue jerseys and gray pants.

The Nationals came out sluggish in the opening game and eventually lost 9-4 to their West Palm Beach neighbors.

After manager Davey Martinez emphasized last night the need to hit with runners in scoring position, the bats couldn’t drive in Luis García Jr. when the second baseman led off the first with a double.

Things started to come apart quickly from there. Or maybe they were never together.

Trevor Williams, making his second start since reporting to camp late following the birth of his fifth child, gave up a first-pitch leadoff home run to Jose Altuve off the left-field foul pole. Not the “CLANG” the Nats are used to hearing against the Astros.

The right-hander then gave up back-to-back singles to set up Kyle Tucker’s three-run homer to make it 4-0 before recording an out. With the wind blowing out to center field, Tucker’s hit looked like it was going to only be a sacrifice fly, but the wind carried it past Victor Robles’ glove and over the wall.

“At this point in camp, I'm feeling good,” Williams said after the game. “I'm feeling like I'm where we need to be. I think we threw 55 today, or almost 60, so to get to that volume today was good and was positive. … I thought we executed really everything that we wanted to execute. It's a day in spring training that you look at the positives a lot more than the results. So at this point in camp, I'm where I need to be.”

After finally recording an out, García was charged with an error while being way too casual in throwing to first base on a routine grounder. García, still battling for his starting spot at second base, then missed the catch at second on a potential double play turn from Nasim Nuñez for his second error in back-to-back plays.

“That can't happen,” said Martinez. “We talked about that with him. We got to be beyond that now with him. I mean, like I said, he's not a rookie. He's been in this league now for a while. Those things cannot happen. If we're gonna compete and do the things we want to do, he's got to play good defense. He's got to play good defense, he’s gotta run the bases the right way, he's got to work good at-bats. So I'll talk to him tomorrow about it. But you can't give up those kinds of errors like that.”

Williams gave up three straight two-out hits to allow the Astros to score another run in the second for an early 5-1 lead. His day ended after three innings, eight hits, five runs, no walks, three strikeouts and two home runs on 55 pitches, 38 for strikes.

“He fell behind a little bit,” Martinez said. “His changeup wasn't as effective as it was in his first outing. But overall I thought he threw the ball OK. He made some good pitches. They didn't really hit the ball exceptionally hard. They hit (two home runs). I thought he threw the ball OK. So he's gotta get that changeup command better.”

But do spring training results even matter?

“To a certain extent,” Williams said. “You don't want to get hit around all the time, but just analyzing what the hits were today. We were able to get them on the ground a lot today with all my pitches, we were able to get swing-and-miss on all my pitches today. So I think those results matter. As we move along and as we get closer, you start to turn up the intensity a little bit, the competitiveness. So to answer your question, it depends. It's relative, right?”

García did have a better day at the plate. He extended his hitting streak to four games by going 3-for-3 with the double. But his third hit, a single into left field with Nuñez on first, resulted in him being thrown out at second while trying to stretch it into a double.

“Those are mental errors that shouldn't happen,” the skipper said.

Unfortunately, those weren’t the Nats’ only errors this afternoon.

With Derek Law pitching, James Wood just missed a ball in right from Jeremy Peña, who made his way to third. But Darren Baker misplayed Wood's low throw back to the infield and Peña scored a Little League home run on an error by the young outfielder.

“He was just being aggressive trying to make a nice play there,” Martinez said. “That's gonna happen. I'd rather see him do that than just pull up on a ball.”

* Victor Robles left the game early while dealing with a knot in his hamstring. It first popped up on Wednesday when he was hit by a pitch against the Marlins in Jupiter.

“He got hit in his hammy,” Martinez said. “He's got a knot from getting hit. It kind of tightened up on him a little bit, so I didn't want to risk it. I tried to get him two at-bats today and it was hot out there, so I just took him out of the game. We'll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Robert Hassell III is day-to-day while dealing with a tight groin. The outfield prospect left last night’s game early when it started bothering him.

“Hassell came out of the game yesterday,” Martinez said. “He had a little tight groin, so I took him out. Precaution. He's gonna be day-to-day for right now.”

* Time for some positives …

Riley Adams produced most of the Nats’ offense today.

He hit a leadoff double in the second against Astros starter José Urquidy and came around to score on Juan Yepez’s two-out RBI single.

He then crushed a two-run home run to left in the sixth for his first longball of the spring.

“He's been good,” Martinez said. “He's working through some things, but he's been really good. He stayed inside that breaking ball really, really well.”

Elijah Green (2022 first-round pick in center field) and Andrew Pinckney (2023 fourth-round pick coming in for Robles and playing left field) got to share the outfield with Wood for an inning.

Green struck out in his first at-bat and lined out to center in his second.

Pinckney also struck out in his first at-bat, but came back with an RBI single up the middle in his second, his first hit and RBI in a major league spring training game. He struck out to end the game in the ninth.

Cole Henry pitched 1 ⅔ innings, throwing 49 pitches and 23 strikes. He started his first inning with a three-pitch strikeout, then issued two walks, gave up a single and got a double play. He came back with a strikeout, hit, walk, RBI single and walk in his second inning of work and was replaced by Jordan Weems with two outs.

Henry was sitting 95-96 mph with his fastball, according to the not-always-accurate stadium scoreboard.

“With him, I'm so happy that he's healthy,” Martinez said. “And the ball is coming out. He's missed some time. So now it's all about honing in on his mechanics and getting consistent with his mechanics. When he's in the strike zone, everything was great. And then when he loses the strike zone, he just gets really quick and spins out of everything. Starts yanking. The ball starts sailing armside.

“But the fact that he's throwing in the mid-90s again and he looks good, that's awesome. The rest of it will come. But knock on wood, I'm just really happy that he's healthy and throwing the ball like he has.”

* Programming note: This will be my last entry for the day, unless something crazy happens in the nightcap. The lineup post from this morning has been updated with information on tonight’s game against the Marlins.

I’ll be watching the game, but I need to get ready to make the long trip to Fort Myers tomorrow morning and fly home after the game against the Twins. I will have updates on my X account, formerly Twitter.

Now that I’ve said that, Dylan Crews will have a multi-homer game …

Update: The Nationals lost the nightcap 4-1 to the Marlins.

Zach Davies went 3 ⅓ innings with three hits, three runs, two walks and five strikeouts on 73 pitches, 43 strikes.

His night started with five straight strikeouts before fellow former Orioles farmhand Trey Mancini drew a two-out walk in the second. Richard Bleier, another former Oriole, allowed two inherited runs to score in relief of Davies.

Trey Lipscomb went 2-for-4, while reaching on a fielder’s choice and lining out sharply to short. He also recorded four putouts while playing second base for the first eight innings.

Dylan Crews finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He grounded out to short in his last at-bat. Since Wednesday, when he doubled, homered and reached on an error, he is 0-for-7 with five strikeouts.

Kyle Finnegan pitched a perfect seventh with two strikeouts on 13 pitches, eight strikes.

Hunter Harvey gave up an infield single on a ball Brady House couldn’t pick up at third base, a wild pitch and an RBI single in the eighth. But he also recorded two strikeouts, throwing 18 pitches, 13 strikes.

DJ Herz had a strikeout and two flyouts while giving up a hit on 22 pitches, 14 strikes, in the ninth inning.

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