Nats get aggressive on bases; Williams goes back to windup

For a team that doesn’t hit for a lot of power but has more than a few fast players in the lineup on a regular basis, the Nationals really haven’t run that much this season.

They rank 25th in the majors in stolen bases. They’re 19th in FanGraphs’ overall team baserunning metric.

The Nats did run more than they usually do Wednesday night against the Padres. And in nearly every instance, it paid off and helped carry them to their 5-3 victory.

“We want to play our game,” manager Davey Martinez said. “If a chance arises to do some things, we’re going to try to push the envelope a little bit and do it. These guys are all ready for it. As soon as they get on first base, they’re looking at me: ‘I’m ready, I’m ready!’ Under some circumstances, we can. And today was one of those where we could push the envelope a little bit.”

The Nationals had two stolen bases in the game, one by Luis Garcia, one by CJ Abrams. But that doesn’t tell the full story. Abrams’ seventh-inning steal actually turned into a two-baser when San Diego catcher Brett Sullivan’s throw wound up in shallow center field.

Stone Garrett went first-to-third on Dominic Smith’s second-inning single, which skipped past right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. for another error.

Alex Call turned a routine fourth-inning single into a Little League triple when he took a wide turn around first and coaxed Rougned Odor into trying to throw behind him, only to launch the ball into the home dugout, gifting Call two free bases on the error.

“When you get good jumps, good reads off the bat and good jumps stealing bases … that’s huge for us,” Call said. “You just let the game come to you. You understand what their tendencies are in certain situations, so you can be aggressive. And then when the ball’s in the gap, you can run all day. Luckily, Keibert was able to come all the way around.”

Call was referring to maybe the wildest play of the whole game. His second-inning double to the gap in left-center easily scored Smith from third, but it also scored Keibert Ruiz all the way from first.

Third base coach Gary DiSarcina actually put up the stop sign, a clear hold visible to everyone in the ballpark. Everyone, except for Ruiz, who never even saw DiSarcina and just kept chugging around third and headed for the plate.

“I didn’t see him,” Ruiz admitted. “I just put my face down, was running hard. And when I saw the ball in center field, I thought I had a chance to score.”

Ruiz did score, extending the Nationals’ lead at that point to 3-0. Had he been thrown out, he would’ve had a tough time living down his barreling through a stop sign. But everyone was able to laugh about it afterward because it was successful.

“I don’t think he even saw the third base coach,” Martinez said. “I told him you must’ve felt like Lou Brock there, because he was motoring.”

* Trevor Williams made a change to his delivery last week in Miami that may not have been noticed by everybody but is fairly significant: He started pitching out of a full windup for the first time in a couple years.

Williams had only pitched out of the stretch, even with nobody on base, throughout spring training and his first eight starts of the season. But he decided to go back to the full windup, including both hands raised above his head, something he hadn’t done since he was a full-time starter in 2021 with the Cubs.

“(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey and I just looked at video, and I was just kind of disgusted with how I looked (from the stretch),” Williams said. “It was choppy. It wasn’t athletic. I’d been going out of the windup my entire life until I became a reliever (for the Mets) and we decided to just stick to the stretch.”

Even though the Nationals signed him this year to be a full-time starter, Williams said he initially wanted to stay out of the stretch at all times because of the addition of the pitch clock.

“I thought it would be easier to exploit the pitch clock out of the stretch,” he said. “Which you can make arguments for or against. But as far as rhythm and athleticism, it just felt best to go back into the windup. And it was successful last start against Miami, and we felt good about it today, as well.”

Given that Williams earned a quality start against the Marlins and then came within one strike of achieving the same distinction Wednesday, it’s probably safe to say he’ll continue to use the windup for the foreseeable future.

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