Give the Nationals lineup a chance to face a left-handed starter and take an early lead. Give Trevor Williams a chance to pitch into the sixth inning and retain that lead. Then hand over the rest to the trusted portion of Davey Martinez’s bullpen and watch them finish the job.
It’s a nice formula for success, and it worked quite well for the Nats tonight during a 5-3 victory over the Padres.
The lineup put up a four-spot in the bottom of the second against San Diego starter Ryan Weathers, the latest lefty to be hit around by this group. Williams surrendered a pair of homers but otherwise was strong during his 5 2/3 innings on the mound.
All of which allowed Martinez to deploy his bullpen in his preferred manner. He had Carl Edwards Jr. get out of the sixth (on one pitch) and then record the first two outs of the seventh. He had Hunter Harvey face the top four members of the Padres lineup, and retire all four to finish the seventh and complete the eighth. And then he had Kyle Finnegan pitch the ninth and emerge with his 10th save in 12 attempts.
"Every series, I do my work before everybody comes in," Martinez said. "And I pick groups of (hitters) based on information that I get, where I feel guys match up best late in games. The (top of the San Diego lineup) was where I really felt comfortable with Harvey. ... It worked out really well. These guys came in and shut the door down."
Finnegan may have notched the save, but Harvey’s appearance prior to that arguably was more critical, given the portion of the lineup he faced. The hard-throwing right-hander got Fernando Tatis Jr. to ground out to third, with Jeimer Candelario making the latest in a string of nifty plays charging in, to get out of the seventh inning.
Harvey then got Jake Cronenworth to ground out to open the eighth before striking out Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts in succession, a big appearance for the reliever who may not be the team’s designated closer, but now seems to find himself pitching the most important portions of games.
"I feel like you've got to treat every inning like the game's on the line," Harvey said. "No matter the score, no matter who you're facing, in any situation we come in it's a chance to close the game."
The Nationals have enjoyed surprising success against left-handers all season. A lineup hardly known for its length or pop actually entered the day with an .800 OPS vs. lefties, sixth-best in the majors. (At the other end of the spectrum, their .665 OPS against right-handers ranked 26th in the sport.)
So at this point, it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise when the Nats busted out for five consecutive hits off Weathers to open the bottom of the second, the first four of those hitters coming around to score.
Run-scoring hits came from Keibert Ruiz and Alex Call, but there was more to it than that. The Nationals took advantage of Tatis’ error on Dominic Smith’s single to right, with Smith and Stone Garrett each getting a free base thanks to the gaffe by Tatis. (That this occurred on a single to right by a guy wearing a No. 22 Nats jersey, with Soto and Trent Grisham in the outfield at the time but not involved in the play, made for a moment any true D.C. baseball fan could appreciate.)
Call’s double to left-center, meanwhile, was going to score only one run (Smith). But Ruiz, who was on first base at the time of the hit, ran straight through Gary DiSarcina’s clear stop sign around third and still managed to slide across the plate ahead of the throw to make it a two-run double.
"I didn't see him," Ruiz admitted with a sheepish grin. "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. I didn't see him."
Poor San Diego defense also played a role in the Nationals’ fourth-inning run off Weathers. Call singled to right-center and took a wide turn around first. That prompted second baseman Rougned Odor, upon receiving the relay throw, to attempt to throw behind Call. The only problem: Odor’s throw sailed directly into the Nats dugout, which by rule meant Call was awarded two bases, placing him on third with one out. Moments later, Lane Thomas ripped a double to left, giving the Nats their fifth run and continuing their season-long trend of mashing lefties.
"We've got a lot of confidence in our pitchers, so whenever we can take the pressure off them and give them some run support, I think it gives them a little freedom to not have to be perfect," Call said. "It's big for everybody. Takes the pressure off. Just makes you feel loose."
It certainly was appreciated by Williams, who pitched with a lead throughout his start and turned in yet another solid, if unspectacular, outing.
The veteran right-hander, who began pitching from a full hands-over-head windup last week after exclusively pitching from the stretch before that, mostly cruised through his first three innings on 39 pitches before finally running into some trouble in the fourth. It began with a five-pitch walk of Soto (no real crime there) but it ended with a hanging curveball to Odor, who lofted it down the right field line and into the bullpen for a two-run homer.
Ha-Seong Kim would add a leadoff homer in the fifth to cut the Nationals’ lead to 5-3 and put Williams in a precarious position, needing to protect that lead while facing the top of the San Diego lineup a third time. He successfully retired the first four batters, including Soto and Bogaerts, but couldn’t quite finish off Matt Carpenter, whose eight-pitch walk ended Williams’ evening with two outs in the sixth.
In came Edwards for the start of the bullpen’s night. It proved to be a good night for that group.
"I'm just glad that Davey continues to trust me in that spot," Williams said. "If you're to have one thing that sticks out today, it's going from 0-2 to a walk to Carpenter at the end. With a two-run lead, that can't happen. It saves bullpen guys one extra 'up.' But Davey made the right call there. (Edwards) came in and shut the door. And from there, we turned it over to the bullpen, and it was awesome."
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