Maybe the worst thing the Nationals could have done before tonight’s game was score 13 runs in this afternoon’s game.
Though that hefty output in the opener of their doubleheader with the Rockies represented the sixth time this season they’ve scored 10 or more runs – tied with the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals for the major league lead – they’ve almost always followed those performances with tepid ones at the plate. In four of the previous five instances, they scored four or fewer runs their next game.
So it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when the Nationals, presented with countless opportunities to drive in runs in bunches tonight, failed to deliver during a 3-2 loss to Colorado that snapped their season-high winning streak at three games.
Those two lone runs came via Nelson Cruz’s first-inning double (the team’s only hit in 16 tries with runners in scoring position) and Yadiel Hernandez’s sixth-inning solo homer (the team’s sixth during the last three Saturdays, with zero homers on any other day during that bizarre stretch).
"We just couldn't get that big hit with guys on base," manager Davey Martinez said. "That's part of it. These doubleheaders sometimes go sideways on you a little bit."
This doubleheader went sideways enough to convince the Nationals to make an unexpected roster move at the end of the night. One hour after the nightcap ended, and 6 1/2 hours after the matinee victory ended, the club announced it has designated right-hander Aaron Sanchez for assignment and will keep reliever Andres Machado (who had been called up for the day to serve as the 27th man for the doubleheader) on the active roster.
Sanchez was battered for seven runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings in the opener and didn't qualify for the win because he didn't last the requisite five frames. The 29-year-old wound up going 3-3 with an 8.33 ERA and 1.755 WHIP in seven starts before losing his job.
The Nationals will now need to find another No. 5 starter, in addition to a fill-in starter before Wednesday to account for today's doubleheader.
With Machado remaining in the bullpen, they could move either Josh Rogers or Paolo Espino back into the rotation to make at least a spot start against the Mets in the coming days. They also could decide Cade Cavalli is nearly ready to make his major league debut after the organization's top prospect tossed seven scoreless innings for Triple-A Rochester tonight. Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to make a rehab start for Single-A Fredericksburg on Sunday, is likely a few weeks away from making his 2022 debut.
The Nationals pitching staff did its best to keep tonight's game close and make up for the lack of offense. Joan Adon allowed only two unearned runs during a six-inning start. Kyle Finnegan wound up surrendering the game-winning run on three straight two-out singles in the top of the seventh.
But that wasn’t going to be enough on this night, when the Nats lineup again failed to sustain any momentum from a seemingly encouraging offensive showing the previous game.
There were some early encouraging signs of breaking the mold tonight when César Hernández led off the bottom of the first with a double and Cruz followed three batters later with his own RBI double for a 1-0 lead.
But things fizzled out quickly after that and the Nationals were unable to score again off Rockies starter Chad Kuhl until Yadiel Hernandez’s solo homer in the sixth. There were golden opportunities later, with Dee Strange-Gordon leading off the seventh with a double and Cruz being gifted a one-out double in the eighth when Rockies left fielder Sam Hilliard couldn’t catch his shallow fly ball. But the Nats squandered each of those opportunities, perhaps most glaringly when Victor Robles (fresh off a three-hit, six-RBI showing in Game 1) fouled off three bunt attempts trying to advance Strange-Gordon to third.
"He did that on his own," Martinez said of Robles' final attempt to bunt with two strikes. "He's swinging the bat well. Take a shot and try to get a hit. We didn't want him bunting right there. That's just another conversation for tomorrow with him."
Not that the Rockies managed much more against Adon, even though it felt like the rookie was teetering on the brink of disaster all night. Adon gave up loud contact early but survived when deep drives were caught at the warning track. He did give up two runs in the third, though both were unearned as a result of Maikel Franco’s throwing error on a tough grounder deep at third and Robles’ subsequent throwing error on a play at the plate that was never going to be particularly close.
"Those, to me, are mistakes that, honestly ... shouldn't happen, for me, ever," Martinez said. "We had plenty of time to get the guy out at first. The throw from the outfield ... he has no chance to throw him out there. Either hit the cutoff man, or throw the ball to second base. That was the difference. We gave up a couple runs there. We could've been out of the inning with no runs. And we lose the game 3-2."
Adon would load the bases in the fourth but escape when Strange-Gordon successfully made the throw from short to second on a grounder despite falling onto his backside as he did it. And then he would find himself facing a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth, only to wriggle his way out of it by striking out Brian Severn and Connor Joe in succession.
As he hopped off the mound following his punch out of Joe on a 97 mph fastball, Adon pounded his glove and yelled with delight. Despite 10 baserunners in six innings, he did not allow an earned run and departed with his team having a chance to win.
"It's one of those things you don't control. It's just emotions take over," Adon said with a smile, interpreted by Octavio Martinez. "It just happens. It's something you don't have control over."
It takes runs to win, though. And that’s something the Nationals only seem to realize every third game or so this season.