The Nationals’ rally last night came up just short. Down 8-0 in the series opener to the Tigers, they were able to come back to make it a two-run game late, but eventually fell 8-6.
They faced another deficit Saturday. Though this one was not nearly as large, they were able to complete the comeback for a 5-2 win in front of 31,721 fans on a beautiful day at Nats Park.
Patrick Corbin got them in a hole early by giving up a first-pitch single to Matt Vierling to start the game and then a two-run home run to slugger Spencer Torkelson three batters later. It wasn’t necessarily a bad pitch – a 92 mph four-seam fastball in the upper right corner of the strike zone – but Torkelson was just able to muscle it out.
“It was a fastball up," the left-hander said of the home run ball after the game. "Tried to get it in, kind of leaked out over. But still felt really good. Located fastball well today. They're a pretty aggressive team, so a lot of quick outs and some early hits that I gave up as well. But defense was great behind me. Overall, felt pretty good.”
As Corbin has done more often this season than in the past three, he didn’t let the early homer derail his start. He was steady from that point on to turn in his fourth straight quality start and his sixth in his last seven outings.
He did put a runner on in each of his six innings (the runner in the third via an error by Corey Dickerson in left field when he dropped a routine fly ball for what would have been the third out), but he didn’t allow any to advance after the home run, stranding four.
Corbin ended his day by striking out Jonathan Schoop to finish the top of the sixth for his 1,500th career strikeout, joining Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg as the four players to reach that milestone in a Nats uniform.
He finished six innings with six hits, two runs, no walks and three strikeouts on 74 pitches, 49 strikes.
“Yeah, that's pretty exciting," Corbin said of his strikeout achievement. "I knew it was close, and it's just always cool to hit those milestones. But you just continue to keep going. I guess it means you've been around for a while, but I think it's even sweeter to come away with a win today. We've been playing hard, just kind of haven't gotten in the win column. So hopefully things start to turn around a little bit and continue to keep going.”
Corbin gave his team a chance to mount the rally and get back in the win column.
Jeimer Candelario got it started with his sixth homer, now tied for the team lead with Lane Thomas, in the fourth inning. He took a second-pitch changeup from Tigers starter Alex Faedo and drove it 390 feet over the right-center field wall.
He added an RBI double in the eighth for good measure to beat the team that non-tendered him in November.
“It's always special to play (against) my former teammates, like you said," Candelario said. "And I like the fans today. They support us a lot today. It was a good atmosphere. And that's why we get pumped and we want to win the ballgame for them.”
Are there extra emotions when you're playing against your former team?
“Actually, no," he said. "I'm just trying to have quality ABs and trying to help my team win. It's gonna take care about itself. You just try to have fun.”
Candelario now has nine extra-base hits, seven runs scored and five RBIs over his last 10 games.
“You feel good when you contribute with the team and help the team win," he said. "That's everybody's goal, and that's what we did today.”
Then Ildemaro Vargas (starting at second base as Luis García got a routine off-day) and CJ Abrams had back-to-back hits in the fifth to set up Thomas’ two-run single into the left field corner to give the Nats a 3-2 lead.
Like Candelario, the young right fielder has also been more consistent at the plate over the last month or so. With a three-hit day and two-RBI day today, he’s hitting .338 with two doubles, a triple, all six of his home runs, 13 RBIs and a .975 OPS in May.
“Just being consistent with an approach, like I said yesterday," Thomas said. "Just taking good swings in good counts. I think that's just the big thing, is just being confident. Like you said, just taking your A swing in that count instead of being like a little in between on pitches.”
Dickerson doubled and Keibert Ruiz drove him in to make it 4-2 in the sixth.
The two-run lead was handed to the bullpen, and unlike Tuesday in Miami, they were able to keep it and close out the win.
Carl Edwards Jr. issued a leadoff walk to Miguel Cabrera in the seventh, but retired the next three batters. Hunter Harvey, this time in the eighth, pitched a perfect inning on 14 pitches against Javier Báez, Riley Greene and Torkelson. And Kyle Finnegan, handed a three-run lead thanks to Candelario’s RBI double, recorded his ninth save with a perfect ninth.
“I liked Harvey and that group of guys," manager Davey Martinez said. "As we talked about before, I like just the matchups for the eighth and ninth with those two guys. I like the velo, the big, big-time velo, and balls up on Javy and those guys. So Harvey got that group.”
This one was finished in two hours and three minutes, the second-fastest game the Nats have played this season. The win ends the Nats’ four-game losing streak and puts them at 19-23 on the season. They’ll have a shot to win this weekend series here tomorrow with Josiah Gray on the mound.
“Patrick Corbin was good," Martinez said. "Other than the home run, he threw the ball really, really well. We battled back. Lane is swinging the bat really well. Candy's still swinging the bat well. But these guys battled back and played well.”
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