Kids help Nats rally before veteran completes comeback win (updated)

CINCINNATI – The Nationals got major contributions from a number of young building blocks this afternoon, whether in the form of Trey Lipscomb’s solid all-around play in his major league debut, CJ Abrams’ three walks and three steals and triple or Keibert Ruiz’s latest clutch homer.

But when they needed one last contribution to pull off a rousing, come-from-behind win, they turned to one of the veterans they signed during spring training for moments just like this.

After Lipscomb, Abrams and Ruiz did their thing, Eddie Rosario did his, producing the sacrifice fly that capped a three-run rally in the top of the ninth and propelled the Nats to a stirring, 7-6 victory over the Reds that required all sorts of performances to make possible.

"Any game is fun to win," Abrams said. "But we all came and had each other's back, and we had fun getting the win today."

Having already rallied to tie the game the previous two innings, the Nationals were forced to do it again in the ninth after Hunter Harvey gave up a two-run double to new Cincinnati cult hero Nick Martini. They came through in impressive fashion against closer Alexis Diaz.

Abrams led off with his third walk and third steal of the day, then scored on Jesse Winker’s RBI single. Another single by Joey Meneses moved the tying run to third with one out, and when Joey Gallo drew a four-pitch walk, the bases were loaded for Ruiz. All the Nats catcher needed to do to “drive” in the tying run? Get grazed on the arm by Diaz’s inside pitch.

Rosario, the mid-spring signing who homered on Opening Day, then came through with a fly ball to left, plenty deep enough to score Nasim Nuñez (who made his MLB debut pinch-running for Meneses, then stole second base) with the go-ahead run.

"I've got a lot of times with a situation like that in my career," the 32-year-old outfielder said. "I love that moment. I want to concentrate on hitting the ball good. Today, I wanted to put the ball in the air far to score the run."

Rosario did exactly what the situation called for, allowing Kyle Finnegan to take the ball for the bottom of the ninth with a lead in hand. And when Lipscomb came charging in from third to field Tyler Stephenson's grounder and get the throw to first baseman Joey Gallo just in time for the final out, the Nats' first win of 2024 was in the books.

"You want to just get yourself in position to make the play," he said. "Slow chopper, I had to come and get it and throw it on the run. And Gallo over there picked me up two times."

This one required a number of rallies. Down 4-2 after the fifth, the Nationals clawed their way back thanks to strong relief work from Derek Law and Jordan Weems, then some offensive heroics from two of their young building blocks. Abrams led off the seventh with a triple and then scored on a wild pitch. Ruiz tied the game one inning later with a towering homer to right, picking up where he left off last season when he came through with four tying or go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later.

"I just don't try to do too much," Ruiz said. "I just believe in myself, try to get a good pitch to hit. I'm grateful I've got those results."

Abrams and Ruiz have already been here for a while, so the spotlight today was on Lipscomb, making his MLB debut less than two years after the Nats used their third-round pick on the Frederick native.

It took little time for Lipscomb to be thrust into his first action. He made two tough fielding plays at third base in the first two innings, diving to rob Santiago Espinal of a double but unable to get the long throw across the diamond in time for what would’ve been a spectacular play.

"I'm glad I got the first one out of the way," he said. "After that, I felt good over there."

Lipscomb got involved at the plate right away, as well. With a sharp grounder to the left side that ate up Reds third baseman Jeimer Candelario, he notched his first career hit in his first career at-bat. And when he promptly swiped second, he became the first player in club history with a hit and a stolen base in his MLB debut. (The only other player in franchise history to do that? The Expos’ Delino DeShields, who just so happened to manage Lipscomb last season at Double-A Harrisburg.)

"I loved watching him out there," manager Davey Martinez said. "He made some really good plays at third base. He's got a cannon over there. It's awesome watching him move around and throw the baseball. And he had good at-bats. He hung in there, got his first base hit. He played really well for his first game."

Abrams made a leaping grab of Spencer Steer’s line drive to the hole at short in the first. Lipscomb wasn’t alone among his teammates shining in the field. Winker fired a 93-mph strike from left field to the plate to nail Espinal trying to score in the second. And Ruiz was credited with his first runner caught stealing after Elly De La Cruz was ruled to have overslid second base in the fifth.

Patrick Corbin was the beneficiary of those defensive gems, but there was no way for anyone to help the left-hander from getting beat once again by fly balls that cleared the fence. Corbin served up two homers in his 4 1/3 innings, with former teammate Candelario turning on an inside sinker for a solo shot to left in the fourth and Luke Maile driving a 2-0 pitch on the outside corner to right for a two-run homer in the fifth. Maile’s ball traveled only 374 feet and would’ve cleared the wall in only one other MLB park (Yankee Stadium) but it counted nonetheless.

Thus did Corbin’s first start of 2024 end in an all too familiar fashion, with four runs and seven hits on the board, not to mention his team trailing.

"I'm just trying to take the positives away," the left said. "We were still in the game there. It was good to see the bullpen come in, and then the offense come back there late. That was huge."

The Nationals could’ve gotten their starter off the hook had they merely converted one of several early scoring opportunities. Despite driving up Hunter Greene’s pitch count (100 in only 4 2/3 innings), they went just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position against the Cincinnati flamethrower. And a major problem was an inability to get the bat on the ball.

Five of Greene’s seven strikeouts came with runners in scoring position: One a piece by Winker, Abrams, Lane Thomas, Rosario and Gallo (who was 0-for-8 with six strikeouts prior to his ninth-inning walk).

The Nats scored thanks to Ruiz’s bloop RBI single in the fourth, then Meneses’ sacrifice fly in the fifth. Then Abrams decided to take matters into his own hands to trim the deficit to 4-3 in the seventh.

When he stepped to the plate to lead off the inning, Abrams already had himself two walks, two stolen bases and the aforementioned Web Gem. He would then add a stand-up triple down the right field line, ultimately scoring on a wild pitch. All before drawing yet another walk and stealing yet another base to ignite the final rally.

"Davey tells me if I walk, it's a double," Abrams said. "Try to get on there for the team and score runs."

Abrams did his part, scoring a run after reaching base in each of his last three plate appearances. Everyone else did their part as well, coming together to create a rousing win.

"I know one thing about this team: We're going to fight for 27 outs," Martinez said. "And we showed it today."

Game 3 lineups: Nats at Reds
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