Nats storm back to get Gray off hook, finally beat Marlins (updated)

First came Joey Meneses’ inside-the-park homer, a huffing-and-puffing adventure around the bases to add the latest improbable chapter to the 30-year-old rookie’s out-of-nowhere arrival.

Then came CJ Abrams’ two-out, two-run triple, an explosive sprint from the plate to third base by the dynamic 21-year-old shortstop.

And when Ildemaro Vargas drove the go-ahead double to left-center in the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals had finally pulled off something they’d done only once in 13 previous tries this season: They beat the Marlins.

Storming back to score five runs in their final two offensive innings, the Nats emerged with a 5-4 victory over Miami, only their second win over their division counterparts this season, certainly the most uplifting to date.

"I look back, and I think about when we play good defense, good things happen," said manager Davey Martinez, whose team indeed sparkled in the field again tonight. "We're playing good defense, we're staying in some of these games. And the hits are going to come, the runs are going to come. Continue to get the defense, get good pitching, and we'll win some games."

Shut out by Marlins left-hander (and former Nats prospect) Jesús Luzardo for six innings, the Nationals finally came storming back in the bottom of the seventh. It began with Meneses’ wild ride, in which he blasted a ball off the center field wall, watched it ricochet way into right-center and then couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Gary DiSarcina waving him around third.

"To be honest, it really surprised me," he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "As I'm running to third, I never thought it would be an inside-the-park home run."

Meneses somehow made it before the Marlins could get the ball back to the plate, recording only the eighth inside-the-park homer in club history, last achieved by Trea Turner and Andrew Stevenson in September 2020 (in far less time than it took him to achieve it tonight).

An announced crowd of 24,931 roared with approval for his’ ninth homer in 38 big league games, chanting his name until he emerged up the dugout steps for a brief-but-heartfelt curtain call.

"It's something special," he said. "Growing up as a little kid, I always saw that a lot of fan bases would do that to the players and ask for a curtain call, for them to basically salute them with the helmet. Now that it's happening to me, it's something that I'll remember is very special and doesn't happen all the time."

Abrams’ two-run triple off lefty reliever Tanner Scott would complete the Nats’ four-run rally and send this game into the eighth knotted at four.

"I really am impressed, because he doesn't budge," Davey Martinez said of Abrams' recent at-bats against left-handers. "He stays in there. His swing stays in the zone a very long time."

Vargas would then deliver with two on and one out in the eighth, driving a pitch from Cole Sulser to left-center, the ball bouncing over the wall for an automatic double that allowed only one of the two runners to score.

"Very excited and very happy," Vargas said, also with Octavio Martinez interpreting. "Anytime you can help the team win and you're able to do so, that's what we're here to work for. So it was a great feeling to do it today and help the team win."

Vargas' hit, while clutch, left zero margin for error in the ninth for Kyle Finnegan. The Nationals closer, though, delivered the zero his team needed to earn his ninth save.

All of this came after Josiah Gray’s five-inning start, in which he allowed four runs on five hits and three walks, throwing 90 pitches. All four runs came during a flurry in the top of the second. He pitched his way out of trouble after that.

It wasn’t much unlike many of Gray’s other starts during his first full big league season. There was some good. There was some bad. There were some walks. There was a home run. There were way more pitches than anyone would prefer in a five-inning start.

This one, however, appeared to have a different epilogue than others. As Gray sat on the dugout bench, Martinez approached him, placed his hands on each of the pitcher’s shoulders and proceeded to have a forceful, one-sided conversation with him. Gray appeared only to nod in the affirmative, letting his manager know he understood what was being conveyed.

Was Martinez informing the 24-year-old he had just thrown his last pitch of the season? No, the manager said afterward he wants to put Gray back on the mound in another five or six days, probably next weekend at Miami for a rematch.

Martinez stressed this afternoon he won’t be making a decision on Gray based on his results, but rather on his mechanics, command and other evidence that could suggest fatigue. And in that regard, tonight's start actually left a positive impression on everyone.

"We're not worried about the outcome right now," Davey Martinez told his young pitcher. "We're worried about the process. And you did really well today. I'm proud of you. You could've put your head down and went back out there after giving up four runs, but you threw up some zeros, and that's a plus to me. And come next year, when you're winning 16-17 games and you're throwing 180-190 innings, you'll learn from this."

In some ways, this was an impressive start for Gray, who pounded the strike zone early (his first eight pitches of the game, 17 of his first 18) and utilized his fastball more regularly as the coaching staff wanted. But the second inning offered another taste of his biggest problem areas coming back to haunt him.

The Marlins scored their first two runs via an infield single, a double down the right field line and a pair of RBI groundouts. No big deal. But when presented with an opportunity to end the inning right there against the bottom of the lineup, Gray proceeded to walk No. 8 hitter Jordan Groshans, then grooved a first-pitch fastball to No. 9 hitter Lewin Díaz, who belted it to right-center for a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead.

"The results stink," Gray said. "But you think about the process and the mentality of things, and I think that was really a step forward in attacking the zone and giving the team a chance."

Even so, that was the 37th home run surrendered by Gray this season, matching Patrick Corbin’s club record set last year, not to mention most in the majors in 2022. Meanwhile, the 63 walks he has now issued this season lead all National League pitchers, creating a double whammy of issues for a young right-hander.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a pitcher with a 5.14 ERA in 26 starts this season spanning a career-high 136 2/3 innings.

"My season starts aren't what I envisioned them being," he said. "But that's OK. I think the opportunity this organization is giving me is a really good one. And I think Davey and (pitching coach Jim Hickey) and (general manager Mike Rizzo) are doing a good job with letting us go out there and fail. Not so much thinking about the results at the end of this year. Thinking about the process, and how can I take my next three or four starts with that mentality, build off that for the offseason. And then come back next year with the results being what I want them to be."

Gore makes rehab start, Hassell heading to Fall Le...
Cavalli shut down again, gets cortisone shot in sh...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to