Nats bats finally bust out in blowout win (updated)

SAN FRANCISCO – Under no circumstances would a major league manager ever openly admit he’d rather hit the road for a week and a half and leave the comforts of home behind. And let’s be clear, Davey Martinez did no such thing this afternoon when asked (somewhat sarcastically, for the record) if he was actually glad the Nationals got out of D.C. and could now embark on a nine-game West Coast stretch against the Giants, Rockies and Angels.

“Hey, believe me, I love playing at home, I really do. And I know the guys do, too,” said Martinez, whose team had just lost eight consecutive games at home. “We like playing in front of our fans. The week there wasn’t good, but like I said, we saw some good things, and I think we’re really close. We’ve got to hit, though. We all know that, right?”

Yes, it’s tough to win when you don’t hit. But when you do? Oh, man, is it a breath of fresh air. And boy were the Nationals able to breathe in all the cool Bay Area air tonight while beating up on the Giants 14-4 to put an emphatic end to the losing streak and begin this daunting trip in as encouraging a fashion as they could’ve conjured up.

"We showed off what we have in the lineup," said Juan Soto, who homered, singled home another run and drew a walk. "At the end of the day, we're even missing two hitters and we still scored 14 runs. That means we have a lot in our lineup. I think we can do a lot more damage."

That’s right, the same Nationals lineup that totaled 16 runs and 52 hits during those eight consecutive losses while playing on South Capitol Street busted out for a season-high 14 runs and 22 hits tonight at Oracle Park. They didn’t do it by launching the ball into warm, humid air that helped carry it over the fence. No, they did it the old-fashioned way, delivering clutch RBI singles and doubles in sustained fashion for the first time in weeks, just as their manager hoped they would all along.

“We’ve got to get some consistency from our lineup,” Martinez said two hours before first pitch. “We’ve got to have that one inning where we drive in runs. A big part of hitting is driving in runs when they’re out there. We haven’t had that consistency yet.”

Then his team went out and did just that across multiple innings, scoring once in the first, twice in the second, twice in the third, four times in the sixth and five times in the eighth to turn this game into a rout.

The Nationals – yes, the Nationals – went 11-for-23 with runners in scoring position. Three different players had four-hit nights: Victor Robles, Josh Bell and Maikel Franco, something the franchise had done only once before (in 1978, when the Expos' Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Larry Parrish pulled it off). 

"We were aggressive in the strike zone," Martinez said. "There weren't very many chases. And with two strikes, we stayed in the middle of the field really well. That equated to driving in runs."

There was, to be fair, one big blast early, from the guy you most expect to deliver one big blast: Soto, who had to contend with the ultra fast-paced Alex Wood and wound up in the middle of an in-game debate on quick-pitching and timeout protocol.

Facing an 0-2 count in the top of the first, Soto asked for time just as Wood was about to deliver his pitch. Plate umpire Scott Barry granted it, Wood had to cut short his delivery and seemed none too pleased about it. Moments later, Soto would demolish a 95 mph fastball 409 feet to center field for his fourth homer (and fourth RBI) of the season and a quick 1-0 lead.

"It feels great to finally hit the ball to center field, way deep," he said. "It feels great to be in that shape."

Two innings later, Wood again began his delivery before Soto was ready. This time, though, Barry didn’t grant the request for time, leaving Soto to scramble to get his hands back on the bat. Somehow he still managed to make contact, popping up to third, but he immediately began griping at the umpire and ultimately had to be held back by Martinez, who surely didn’t want his star slugger getting ejected over that matter.

"It's going to happen, but you have to be smart enough," Martinez said. "If you need more time, put your hand up. Because he'll probably give you more time."

Fortunately for the Nationals, the Soto saga would quickly become a footnote. Because for the first time in forever, everybody else hit.

They scored two runs in the top of the second via back-to-back, two-out RBI hits from none other than Robles and Alcides Escobar, the previously slumping 8-9 batters in the lineup who at long last delivered in the clutch. Robles would finish 4-for-5 with three RBIs, only the second four-hit game of his career. Escobar would finish 3-for-4 with two RBIs, raising his batting average from .123 to .164 in the process.

"I felt great, and thank god for that," Robles said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I've been making the adjustments that have been working for me lately. I keep working at it, and it's been working, so I'm going to keep doing that."

The Nationals followed up the Soto incident in the third with another rally, this time getting RBI hits from Franco and Lane Thomas. That gave them five runs on the night, topping their total from any of their previous nine games.

And then came the all-important, tack-on runs in the top of the sixth, four of them in total crossing the plate, thanks to a sustained rally that included RBIs in four consecutive at-bats by César Hernández, Soto, Nelson Cruz and Bell. And, yes, Soto’s 111 mph laser of a single off the bricks in right field represented the first time this season he drove in somebody other than himself.

Cap it all off with five more runs in the eighth, and the Nationals produced only the 10th 20-hit game in club history, a gift of run support Aaron Sanchez was more than happy to accept.

The right-hander, making his second start for the Nats and his second start against the same Giants club he pitched for in 2021, made one real mistake all night: a hanging curveball to Jason Vosler for a two-run homer in the bottom of the second. Otherwise, he was outstanding, successfully relying on his sinker and a few curveballs and four-seam fastballs mixed in for good measure to throw a whopping 51 of his 71 pitches for strikes.

"That's just my game," he said. "I'm going to attack the zone, try to get guys out on three pitches or less and let the defense work. The faster I can get my guys back in the dugout, get them to the plate, hopefully you're looking at nights like today."

With that, Sanchez likely earned himself another start. Shoot, if his teammates keep scoring runs for him like they did tonight, he’ll refuse to ever give up his spot in the rotation.

"I'm very happy to be where I am," said the right-hander, who was making only his ninth major league start since 2019. "There's been a lot of hard work, but I always knew there was a lot left in the tank. I'm in a great situation with everyone here. I said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm very thankful to be where I'm at. I can't say enough great things about this organization and the people around here."

Game 23 lineups: Nats at Giants
Doolittle, Harvey remain in D.C. until cleared to ...

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