Nats finally enjoy offensive breakthrough, rout Twins (updated)

The Nationals finally broke out of their offensive slumber tonight, and all it took was a couple of rare home runs, as many hits with runners in scoring position as they had totaled in their previous five games and one wild trip around the bases by Eddie Rosario.

A 12-3 rout over the Twins, to put it mildly, was exactly what this team needed.

Snapping their losing streak at five games by extending Minnesota’s losing streak to seven games, the Nats enjoyed their best all-around offensive showing since their last homestand. And combined with another quality start from rookie Mitchell Parker, this turned into one of their most enjoyable ballgames in some time.

"We talk about it all the time: When you score early, things start to fall into place," manager Davey Martinez said. "They start to relax a little bit. The at-bats get better. ... You get that, and you get another good outing from Mitchell, and it becomes a good day."

The just-completed, 2-7 trip through Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia was a miserable one, especially from an offensive standpoint. The Nationals scored two runs or fewer in five of those losses, they went 5-for-43 with runners in scoring position over the last five games and they only managed to score five runs Sunday with a way-too-late rally against the Phillies that had no bearing on the outcome of the game.

Martinez, though, liked what he saw in those at-bats, garbage time or not, and he hoped it might carry over into tonight’s series opener against the Twins. It did.

The Nationals jumped on Pablo López early, thanks to a much-needed big blast from Luis García Jr., who entered in a 3-for-33 slump but broke out with a laser of a two-run homer off the façade hanging above the right field bullpen.

"It definitely brings a different kind of energy and excitement to the team in the dugout," García said of the early homer, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Especially after coming off a tough road trip in general. It definitely adds a little bit of motivation and excitement."

Two innings later, Jesse Winker joined the party, driving a ball 403 feet to left-center for his second homer in as many days, not to mention the Nats’ second multi-homer game in two days.

That part of tonight’s proceedings mirrored the first portion of Sunday’s game. This time, though, they kept it going. Not with power, but with a long-awaited string of clutch hits.

During the course of a four-run bottom of the fifth in which they batted around, the Nationals got a rare single from Joey Gallo, a double from Keibert Ruiz, a two-run single from Jacob Young, a two-out RBI single from Joey Meneses and another two-out RBI single from García that capped off the rally and gave them their first truly comfortable lead in two weeks.

And they didn’t let up. The bottom of the sixth saw singles from Ruiz, Young and Rosario, who then ran wild to extend the lead even further. Leading off first with Young on third and two out in the inning, Rosario broke for second and had the bag stolen with ease. Catcher Christian Vázquez’s throw actually went to third as he tried to backpick Young. But when the throw ricocheted off Young and down the third base line, he scampered home and Rosario kept on going himself. Even though Ricky Gutierrez didn’t give him a sign as he approached third, Rosario waved himself around and ultimately slid in ahead of the throw to complete a wild, 270-foot trip around the bases that gave the Nats a 10-3 lead.

"I saw where the ball was," he said with a smile. "I did it for myself."

"The nickname I have for him is Billy Hamilton," García said. "Because he's running a lot like him."

All told, the Nationals went 5-for-8 with runners in scoring position, equaling their hit total from the previous five games in 35 fewer at-bats.

"I think a lot of us have had a tough week offensively," Rosario said. "It's great motivation to add to the confidence, having several base hits in the game today. I think it's going to add to us starting to play a lot better."

By the time Rosario slid across the plate, Parker already knew his night was over. But the extra runs all but guaranteed the rookie would emerge with his third win of the season.

Parker was incredibly efficient early on, completing his first three innings on 35 pitches. He completed the top of the first on nine pitches, striking out Ryan Jeffers and Carlos Correa on three apiece and coming within one strike of doing the same to Manuel Margot. With the crowd urging him on in search of an immaculate inning, Parker did allow Margot to make contact, hitting a routine grounder to short.

"Definitely a good start to any game," he said. "I'm not going to be upset about that."

His pitch count at 70 when he took the mound for the sixth, Parker had some cushion, thanks to all the run support from his teammates. The lefty did issue a leadoff walk and then served up a two-run homer to Correa that prompted the Nationals bullpen to get up and running.

But even as the inning continued and two more batters reached base, Martinez let his young starter try to pitch his way out of the jam. And when Parker struck out Kyle Farmer with a 94 mph fastball on his 94th and final pitch, it represented a growth moment on a night that included plenty of positives for the home team.

"That's awesome," he said. "To be able to do it and finish what we started, and get the team back in the dugout and score some more runs, for us was awesome."

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