Nats bench comes through big in rare case

Davey Martinez has always liked the idea of a deep and talented bench, offering him opportunities to play matchups late in games. And the Nationals manager did it often en route to a World Series title in 2019, summoning a pinch-hitter off his bench 252 times, then even more last season, when pinch-hitters received 282 plate appearances.

The times, though, they are a changing. With the designated hitter now in the National League on a full-time basis, there simply hasn’t been much reason to turn to the bench late in games this season. To wit: The Nats have taken only 22 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter so far, third-fewest in the majors.

So consider what happened Tuesday night to be well outside the norm this season. Martinez didn’t just use one pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth of a 3-1 victory over the Pirates. He used two.

First it was Luis García, out of the lineup for the first time in 26 games since his promotion from Triple-A Rochester, batting for Maikel Franco. Then it was Yadiel Hernandez batting for Alcides Escobar and coming through with the two-run double that broke a tie game. And then to set up his best defensive alignment for the ninth, Martinez brought in Ehire Adrianza to play third instead of Franco, with García playing shortstop. 

Was that how Martinez planned for it to all work out?

“It’s hard to predetermine things before the game, but you look at stuff that might transpire,” he said. “And it’s all stuff I sit down and talk about before the game, if they might bring in right-handed pitchers, if we need these guys late in the game. And tonight, it worked out. I knew I had those lefties on the bench. Just plopped them in the right moment.”

Hernandez’s at-bat was the biggest of the game. Summoned off the bench with two out and two on, he proceeded to drive the ball to right field, just past the extended reach of Pittsburgh’s Diego Castillo. As Hernandez coasted into second base with a double, García and César Hernández raced around to score and give the Nats the lead for good.

Yadiel Hernandez actually has some substantial history coming off the bench, most notably last season when he went 13-for-50 with a homer and five RBIs in 55 plate appearances a pinch-hitter. Trouble is, those opportunities aren’t happening with near the frequency this year. He’s now 2-for-6 on the season, counting Tuesday night’s heroics.

About that double. It was the Nationals’ only hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the game. This after they went 1-for-12 in such situations during Monday night’s win. Somehow, those two clutch hits (supplied by Hernandez on Tuesday, Franco on Monday) were enough to pull out back-to-back wins over the Pirates.

The pressure of coming through when given an opportunity at the plate may be overcoming some younger players on this roster.

“We have struggled a little bit in that department,” Hernandez said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “On a personal level, I get anxious as well. I put pressure on myself, and I get very anxious trying to drive those runs. But I keep telling myself to calm down, relax and just look for my pitch and something to hit very hard. Hopefully it lands.”

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