CINCINNATI – The Nationals have made a bad habit of falling behind early in games this week. They have allowed their opponents to score first in six of their last seven games, including today’s matchup against the Reds.
To the Nats’ credit, they were able to claw their way back and win last night’s game. They had to claw their way not once but twice today in a wild 10-8 win over the Reds in front of 23,128 fans at Great American Ball Park.
“I tell the guys, 'Hey, we give up a run or two the first thing, there's still a lot of baseball left. We got a good enough offense that we can inch our way and come back and end up winning these games. So don't get down,” manager Davey Martinez said before today’s game.
Stay in the fight, or something like that.
That’s exactly what they did.
“That was awesome. These guys battled back," Martinez said after today's game. "We fell behind. ... But the boys battled back. We had good at-bats late in the game. ... I was proud of the boys. And like I said, these guys don't quit. They play hard to last out. And you saw that today.”
The Nats kept fighting all the way to the end, tying the game in the eighth and taking the lead in the ninth.
In the eighth inning of a 7-6 game, Maikel Franco singled and then advanced all the way to third on Tony Santillan's wild pitch, bringing the tying run 90 feet away with one out. Luis García followed with an RBI double to right to tie the game at 7-7. Lane Thomas walked to put two on for Juan Soto, who was looking to continue his big day.
But former National Ross Detwiler, the only left-hander in the Reds bullpen, entered to face the slugger and struck him out looking on a well-placed cutter up and away in the zone.
Kyle Finnegan entered in the bottom of the frame, his third appearance in four days, and struck out the side on 11 pitches to continue his recent string of great outings and keep the game tied.
They would capitalize in the ninth. Back-to-back singles by Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell put runners on the corners with no outs. Victor Robles pinch-ran for Cruz at third. Yadiel Hernandez struck out (a Golden Sombrero for him on the day) and Keibert Ruiz lined out, but Franco came up clutch with an RBI single to put the Nats up 8-7.
García's third and fourth RBIs of the game made it 10-7. Those insurance runs came in handy as Tanner Rainey gave up a solo homer to Brandon Drury in the bottom of the frame. But he was able to seal the win for his seventh save of the season.
“Franco and García did great today," Martinez said. "Look, Franco has been, like I said, he's been awesome all year long. He's drove in some big runs for us. What I like today about him, I told him, I said, 'You can run a little bit. You've been hiding on me. So keep running bases well. It's part of it.' But he had some good at-bats for us today. And Louie swings the bat. He's been swinging the bat in the minor leagues, and he comes up here and he's hit the ball well today. So hopefully he continues to do that.”
“I absolutely enjoy those moments," García said of the high-leverage at-bats late in the game, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "In any big at-bat that I can help the team, especially pull out the victory, I definitely relish and enjoy it. Just stay focused, stay calm and continue to do what I've been doing.”
Much earlier in the day, Erick Fedde, looking to bounce back after a rough outing in New York earlier this week, dug himself and his team into another early hole. Finding himself in a lot of full counts and unable to put away hitters in the first, Fedde loaded the bases on a single and two walks before serving up a two-run single to Kyle Farmer for a quick 2-0 Reds lead.
It would have been worse, if not for Soto robbing Joey Votto of his third three-run home run of this series. The Nats right fielder made a leaping grab at the wall to limit the damage in the top of the first.
“For me, I really think just get to the wall and see where the ball is gonna be," Soto said of his catch. "You know, this park, balls fly very well and I just tried to get to the wall and try to make a catch.”
Fedde dealt with first-inning command issues, needing 36 pitches and throwing only half of them for strikes. He was better from the end of the first through the fourth, retiring 10 of 13 batters.
“I felt good," he said. "I think that first inning, I just felt a little rushed, didn't have my rhythm. But then once I got through that, settled in quite nicely.”
He relied more on his curveball and sinker than on his cutter, which he came into this start throwing 32 percent of the time. He only threw it 14 percent of the time against the Reds.
“Oh, I don't know about that," Fedde said asked if he had a lack of command with the cutter. "I think it was just the batters that were, you know, that's the first time in who knows how long that I've had that many righties in the lineup against me. So the cutter's my best weapon to the lefties. I think that's just where it came. And especially, I mean, a lot of their lineup is high-ball hitters. That's where I use that pitch the most. So it just wasn't, I thought, maybe my best pitch to get outs today.”
The offense came to Fedde’s aid in the fourth. Soto led off the top of the inning with a 423-foot home run on a 1-1 pitch from Reds starter Tyler Mahle. Soto once again used the middle of the field, sending the offering 110 mph off his bat over the center field wall.
A bases-loaded single from Franco and a sacrifice fly from García gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead by the end of the fourth.
Then came the implosion in the fifth, ignited by an interesting decision by Davey Martinez. After a leadoff single to Drury, Fedde got the next two batters out, looking to escape another jam. But after a single to Tyler Stephenson to put two on with two outs, Martinez decided to go to the bullpen rather than have Fedde face Farmer, who had put two balls in play already, for the third time.
“Yeah, that was part of it," said Martinez. "The other part of it, after his outing last time, and then the 86 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings, it's a lot of pitches. And the high-leverage situation in the first inning. And then in that inning, after getting two outs, I thought he was a little bit tired. He said he wanted to get one more hitter, but I thought that was it for him.”
In came right-hander Jordan Weems, who got Farmer to a full count but walked him in a seven-pitch at-bat to load the bases. Next up: Left-handed slugger Mike Moustakas.
In an intense at-bat that saw Weems get ahead 0-2 and have issues with his PitchCom, Moustakas walked on a wild 11th pitch to tie the game at 3-3 and keep the bases loaded.
Albert Almora Jr. hit a grand slam on a high slider in a 1-1 count in the next at-bat to suddenly put the Nats in a 7-3 hole.
Once again to its credit, the offense did try to climb out of this one. In the seventh, César Hernández doubled, Thomas singled and Soto crushed another homer, this one 419 feet and 109.8 mph to right. It was quickly a one-run game.
Soto giveth and taketh homers.
“I feel pretty good," Soto said of his home runs. "I was just trying to make contact with the ball. Just put the ball in play and try to help my team as much as I can. I just came in and get a couple barrels and I saw the ball fly.”
Said García of Soto's homers, without the help of an interpreter: “Unbelievable.”
Home plate umpire Gabe Morales took away an opportunity for the Nats to add more runs in the top of the ninth, calling César Hernández out on a pitch that seemed to be just low and away out of the zone.
Martinez was ejected for arguing from the dugout. But he got his money’s worth before departing.
“Just trying to keep César from getting thrown out," the manager said of his ejection. "As you all know, I don't ever blame the umpires. We thought the ball was down. He thought the ball was down. But for me, it's just about protecting. I didn't really say much before I got thrown out. And then once I got thrown out, then I get a little aggravated.”
More importantly, he and the Nationals got the win to put themselves in position to win the series tomorrow.
“It's really important," Soto said of carrying this momentum forward. "The first part of the season, we just got to keep grinding. We never know how we are gonna end it up. It's like 2019, we started really bad and then we figured it out and clicked together. You see what we ended up. For me, it's just the beginning and we have a really good chance to keep going.”
“The boys battled back," Martinez said. "And it was a good day for the curly W, the Nats.”
* On the farm, Cade Cavalli turned in his second straight impressive outing. In the first game of Triple-A Rochester’s doubleheader against Buffalo (Blue Jays) - which are still seven-inning games in the minor leagues – the Nats’ No. 2 prospect went the distance, striking out 10 and allowing just one run on five hits and two walks.
Cavalli threw 94 pitches, 63 for strikes, and lowered his ERA to 4.94, the first time it has dipped below 5.00 at Triple-A.
The Nats’ No. 4 prospect, Jackson Rutledge, didn’t have as much success with low Single-A Fredericksburg. Rutledge gave up six runs (five earned) on seven hits and two walks in just two innings. He only struck out three while throwing 54 pitches, 33 for strikes. He now has a 13.15 ERA through five starts.
Cole Henry, the Nats’ No. 3 prospect, makes his Triple-A debut with the Red Wings tomorrow.