García's blast off the bench lifts Nats back to .500 (updated)

Asked this afternoon about the new-look lineup he put together after his Nationals were held to two total runs the previous three days, Davey Martinez smirked.

"The definition of insanity, right?" the manager said. "Hey, I'm going to try to do something."

That new look – Jacob Young leading off, ahead of CJ Abrams – did produce the Nats’ first run of the night against the Blue Jays. But it was Martinez’s other big decision later in the evening that paid off the most.

With his offensively challenged team desperately needing runs in bunches, Martinez sent Luis García Jr. to the plate to pinch-hit for Trey Lipscomb with two on in the bottom of the seventh. Seconds later, García was circling the bases to flashing red stadium lights, his three-run homer giving the Nationals a lead they ultimately expanded into a much-needed, 9-3 victory over Toronto.

"It's hard to explain with words the emotions that run through you," said García, who is now batting .300 with an .800 OPS, via interpreter Octavio Martinez.

García’s big blast off right-handed reliever Erik Swanson's first-pitch splitter – the first pinch-hit homer of his career – was exactly the bolt of lightning this team needed. It produced as many runs on its own as the entire lineup had produced the previous 33 innings and woke everyone up on a previously sleepy, chilly May evening at the park.

"It's good momentum," Abrams said. "We had energy the whole game. That just kind of added to it."

The Nats would score five more runs after the homer, turning a tight game into a comfortable victory that lifted them back to a .500 record for the fourth time this season. They’ve lost each of their three previous games with a chance to get over the .500 hump. They’ll give it another go Saturday afternoon.

"We'll do it for sure," Abrams said. "No doubts about it."

With several regulars injured and others mired in lengthy slumps, Davey Martinez has had to piece things together in recent days, searching for some combination that works. The Young-Abrams pairing at the top of the lineup was the latest twist, and it worked in one key spot tonight.

Young opened the third by ripping a double into the left field corner. Moments later, Abrams singled through the right side of the infield, and his speedy teammate rounded third and easily scored. But with a chance to bust out and produce a multi-run rally for the first time in days, the Nats faltered. With runners on the corners and one out, Keibert Ruiz grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch he saw from Yusei Kikuchi, extending his slump to a miserable 2-for-35.

Of greater concern: Young departed the game a couple innings later with back spasms. He was receiving treatment after the game, and Martinez said they'll see how he feels Saturday before deciding if he can return to play.

"I don't know much, other than he had back spasms," the manager said. "He couldn't go back out. We had to get him out of the game."

At that point, they still trailed 3-1. When last he was seen on the mound, Patrick Corbin was digging his team into an early 7-0 hole, only to watch his teammates climb all the way out of that hole and ultimately beat the Marlins, 12-9. The deficit wasn’t as large tonight, but after a three-run top of the second, there was an all-too-familiar negative vibe permeating the ballpark.

Corbin found himself in that hole after allowing doubles to three of the first seven batters he faced, plus a single and a walk. And when he surrendered a one-out triple to Ernie Clement in the top of the fourth, it felt like the deficit was about to grow.

But Corbin got what he needed in that situation – a sharp ground ball to short – and Abrams (playing in with the rest of the infield) made a nice scoop of George Springer’s hot shot and then a spinning, on-target throw to the plate to nail Clement.

"Me and (infield coach Ricky Gutierrez) have been working on the spin, and I spun around, not even thinking about it," Abrams said. "The work's paying off."

Corbin never looked back after that. He retired the last eight batters he faced, and despite all those early struggles somehow emerged at the end of the night with a quality start: three runs allowed in six innings on 92 pitches.

"I was fortunate to just give up those three there in the second," he said. "Put up some zeros after that. Bullpen came in, put up some zeros."

Quality start or not, Corbin had no chance at getting credited with his first win of 2024 because his teammates couldn’t supply him with anything close to the run support they provided Sunday in Miami.

In the end, they did produce nearly as much offense. They just needed one big blast at the right moment from a pinch-hitter off the bench to jumpstart everything.

"You look at everything before the game and try to see what a good spot is, for all of these guys," Martinez said. "That was a good spot. They couldn't bring in a lefty. I thought: If we're ever going to score some runs, it would be right now. It worked out."

"That was electric," Abrams said. "Luis, big situation. He had the cojones to get it done, and he did it."

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