Parker, Thomas, Young help Nats remain undefeated vs. Marlins (updated)

In this season of progress, the Nationals are beginning to establish which quality opponents they can hang with. They’re also establishing which opponent they can dominate: the Marlins.

There should be no question at this point how these two division rivals stack up in 2024. With a 3-1 Father’s Day victory on South Capitol Street, the Nats improved to 7-0 against Miami. They’ve already clinched the season series, with six games still to play in September.

The Nationals have outscored the Marlins 48-18 for the season. They outscored them 15-2 this weekend, and the only two runs they surrendered came on infield singles.

"You've got to beat teams in your division in order to know where you're at," said manager Davey Martinez, whose team was a miserable 6-26 vs. Miami the last two seasons. "We've done that with them. ... It's the only way you're going to win your division, right? You've got to beat the teams in your division."

Suffice it to say, the pitching was exquisite, and today was no exception, with Mitchell Parker once again delivering a winning performance before the bullpen took over late.

Parker allowed just one run over six innings, scattering six hits without walking anybody. He threw 65 of his 85 pitches for strikes, continuing a critical theme that has defined his first two months in the majors, not to mention the Nationals staff as a whole.

Across 329 2/3 minor league innings, Parker walked 4.6 batters per nine innings. So far in 67 2/3 big league innings, he has dropped that rate to 1.9.

"It's hard to win a ballgame when you're giving up free baserunners," the lefty said. "Things are going to happen. If we can keep guys off base as much as we can and make them earn it to get on there, good things happen for us."

Parker is hardly alone in implementing an organizational philosophy that is finally coming to fruition. Nationals starters have walked a total of four batters over the last five games. Unsurprisingly, they also own a 1.19 ERA, 0.857 WHIP and incredible nine-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio during this span.

Is it any wonder the Nats have now won eight of their last nine and have creeped to within one game of .500?

"I said it last time: Everyone's throwing well. It's contagious," said Parker, now 5-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 12 starts. "Winning is fun. All of us going out there to win a ballgame? We're having a great time."

As they did Saturday afternoon, the Nationals staked their young left-handed starter to a quick lead, and as was the case Saturday, Lane Thomas played a big part in that. The Nats’ No. 2 hitter blasted a fastball from Jesus Luzardo to left-center for a 1-0 lead, his third homer in as many days and further confirmation of his sustained production since coming back from a knee sprain.

In 20 games since his return, Thomas is slashing .311/.365/.595, turning himself back into the hitter he was for large stretches of the 2023 season.

"Right now, he's just seeing the ball really well," Martinez said. "He's getting back on time and really trying to stay in the middle of the field and drive the ball. You saw him hit one to center field today. He hit one to right field yesterday. He's really staying behind the baseball well. And when he does that, we've seen what he can do."

Thomas’ homer was nice, but not unexpected. The homer that came four innings later most certainly was, considering who hit it.

Jacob Young has done a lot of good things for the Nationals since first reaching the majors last August. His defense in center field has been stellar. His speed on the bases has been phenomenal. His power stroke? Well, that had been nonexistent: Zero home runs in 324 plate appearances.

So when he connected on a Luzardo fastball in the bottom of the fifth and watched the ball fly 403 feet to left, easily clearing the bullpen fence, Young couldn’t help but round the bases with a huge smile on his face. And his teammates couldn’t help but celebrate even more robustly in the dugout, knowing what this moment meant for the 24-year-old.

"To do it on Father's Day, it's a special moment," he said. "I texted my dad right when I got in (the clubhouse). That was pretty cool. It was awesome. Way up there. Definitely a blackout moment you'll never forget." 

Young may have been completely inexperienced at such things in the majors, but the concept wasn’t totally foreign to him. The 192-pound outfielder homered six times in the minors last season, and he hit eight of them in three seasons at the University of Florida.

"I don't want to say that he's a home run hitter," Martinez said with a laugh. "I just want him to get on base. But on occasion, you can see it come out of him."

Today’s blast gave the Nationals the lead in the fifth. A clutch hit by Vargas one inning later extended that lead. With Nick Senzel running on the pitch, Vargas laced a double down the right field line, giving Senzel an easy 270 feet sprint around the bases to score and make it 3-1.

The rest was up to Parker and the bullpen. And as both parts of that equation have shown, that’s a potent way to close out a game.

"This weekend was an all-around good weekend," Martinez said. "Pitching was good. We scored runs when we needed to. Defense played well. We've got to clean up some things, but I'm very proud of the way the guys played."

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