DENVER – Something funny happened when the Nationals left the unfriendly confines of D.C. and flew west for what looked on paper like a daunting road trip.
Instead of crumbling, they’ve picked things up. Instead of looking overmatched, they’ve controlled their opponents. Instead of continuing the eight-game losing streak that plagued them at home, they’ve played their best baseball of the young season.
Tonight’s 10-2 blowout victory over the Rockies was simply the latest in a sudden string of impressive showings from the Nats. They took two-of-three in San Francisco, scoring a total of 28 runs in the process. Then they came to Coors Field and kept their foot on the gas, never giving the hometown team a chance to mount the kind of comeback this ballpark has been known to foster.
"Just seeing a lot of hits all across the lineup is huge. A lot of guys, I think, are settling in, in the rotation and throwing the ball well. And we're playing great defense. That's kind of the mixture for success," right-hander Erick Fedde said. "Maybe it was just taking a couple games to see it and believe it. Now we're playing really quality baseball."
For tonight's win, they can thank Fedde, who picked an opportune moment to author one of the best starts of his career. The right-hander allowed one run over seven innings, only the fourth time he’s ever recorded 21 outs in a big league game.
Fedde’s teammates supplied plenty of run support. Josh Bell mashed a three-run homer. Juan Soto added a solo shot of his own. Keibert Ruiz drove in three runs, and Yadiel Hernandez drove in a pair to pace a well-balanced offensive attack.
"For me, you can never score enough runs in this ballpark," manager Davey Martinez said. "The big thing was ... you score early, but you've got to keep working good at-bats. They did that tonight."
What Fedde did, though, merits special consideration, given the location. He’s only the eighth pitcher in Nationals history to complete seven innings at Coors Field, the first since Stephen Strasburg on Aug. 19, 2015.
"Especially in this ballpark, it's hard," Ruiz said. "But he was doing it. I'm happy for him he got the win. And for the team, too."
Fedde did it by finishing strong after some shaky moments earlier. Though he allowed only one run (via Randal Grichuk’s RBI fielder’s choice), he needed 56 pitches to get through his first three innings. This has been a recurring problem for the righty, who even when he pitches well can’t get enough quick outs to give himself a chance to stick around for more than five (or sometimes six) innings.
In this case, though, Fedde righted the ship just in time. His four scoreless innings from the fourth through the seventh were achieved on a mere 46 pitches, bringing his total for the entire night to a manageable 102.
"It's crazy. I feel like a lot of hits today were soft contact," he said. "And then I gave up a million hard-hit balls that were outs. I'll take what I can get."
It took the Nationals a little time to get to Germán Márquez, but once they did, they took down the Rockies starter with multiple sustained rallies.
A leadoff single by Alcides Escobar in the top of the third and a subsequent walk drawn by César Hernández created an ideal scoring scenario for the heart of the lineup. Soto, though, curiously decided not to try to drive those two in but instead attempt to bunt the first pitch he saw from Márquez. He wound up fouling it off, then later struck out to end a mysterious at-bat.
No harm done, though, because Bell followed with a 368-foot, opposite-field drive to give the Nats an immediate 3-0 lead. That homer, Bell’s third of the season, gave him 18 RBIs (fourth-most in the National League) and a 1.001 OPS (fifth-best in the league).
"The thing about him right now is, he's trying to keep everything simple," Martinez said. "He's not trying to do too much up there. He's just trying to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. And he's swinging the bat really well."
Even with the odd bunt attempt in the third, Soto would have his moment two innings later. Leading off the top of the fifth, with no reason to even consider squaring around, he launched a ball 414 feet to left-center for his fifth homer of the year.
Three more hits from the bottom of the lineup, capped by Ruiz’s two-run single, extended the Nationals’ lead to 7-1 and essentially knocked Márquez from the game.
"Just keeping it simple, getting my pitch and don't try to do too much," said Ruiz, who finished 3-for-4 with a walk, a double and three RBIs. "Try to hit line drives to the middle. Hopefully I can keep going."
And as if just to make sure they provided themselves enough cushion in this ballpark where no lead ever feels safe, they tacked on two more runs in the seventh, getting another clutch hit from Yadiel Hernandez. His double to deep center brought home Bell and Lane Thomas (who pinch-hit for Nelson Cruz, who departed the game with lower back stiffness) and left the 34-year-old outfielder sporting a .368 batting average.
"We're on time for the fastballs," Bell said. "Capitalizing with runners in scoring position. It seems like one through nine, we're all contributing. I think when you put all those together, good things happen."
And perhaps these last four games are a better reflection of this team's full capabilities than what preceded it.
"It was just a matter of when we were going to get hot," Bell said. "Now it's about maintaining. If we can do that for stretches of months and months, we're going to be right where we want to be."