Rogers throttles Braves, offense explodes for 11-2 rout of Braves

ATLANTA – Six nights ago, the Nationals packed up all their belongings in West Palm Beach, Fla., and took their bus to the airport, ready to head north for opening day in D.C. One player remained in the complex at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches: Josh Rogers, who only a short while earlier learned he hadn’t made the club and now needed to get to Toledo to join Triple-A Rochester’s roster.

The demotion caught Rogers, and plenty of others around the organization, by surprise. Rogers himself was admittedly mad about the decision. But manager Davey Martinez told the left-hander he’d be the first starter called up if one was needed, so he needed to make sure he was ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“I think I would be lying if I said I wasn’t mad or down,” Rogers said. “I’m competitive and wanted to make the team, just like everybody else. It is what it is. Just take it and go to Triple-A and just do what I do and have a good attitude and turn the page. I was mad for 12 hours, then wake up the next day and it’s all about the process, and it’s part of it.”

How fitting was it, then, when only six nights later Rogers walked off the mound at Truist Park with one out in the bottom of the sixth, having just completed the best start by a member of the Nationals rotation to date, helping lead his team to an 11-2 rout of the Braves on the night they gave out replica World Series rings to a sellout crowd of 42,263.

Summoned from Rochester to replace the injured Aníbal Sánchez, Rogers didn’t sulk over his brief demotion. Instead he showed up to the park this afternoon full of his usual energy, then took the mound and rocked and rolled his way through 5 1/3 innings of two-hit ball against one of the toughest lineups in the league.

“I talked to him, and of course you’re going to be down because you wanted to make the team,” Martinez said. “But like I said, you’re going to be up here and you’ve got to be patient. We’re going to need you and you’ll be the first one we call when we need a starter.”

Rogers got plenty of help from a Nationals lineup that strung together its best rally of the week, scoring five runs in the top of the third behind clutch two-out hits from Lane Thomas and Maikel Franco, then put up another five-spot in the top of the eighth, with Franco delivering a bases-clearing double to give him five RBIs on the night.

Víctor Arano, Hunter Harvey and Patrick Murphy then closed it out, the first two retiring all eight batters they faced before Murphy labored in the ninth.

But Rogers, the 27-year-old lefty, was the pre-eminent story of this win, the Nats’ second in a row after they dropped three in a row to the Mets to begin the season.

Rogers seemed like a shoo-in for the opening day rotation most of the spring, especially after top prospect Cade Cavalli was roughed up by the Cardinals in his final appearance and Erick Fedde dealt with a minor oblique injury. But when Fedde was deemed healthy and the Nationals elected to keep rookie Joan Adon in their rotation, Rogers suddenly was the odd man out, left behind in Florida while everyone else flew to Washington.

He might stick around a while longer after this performance. Rogers gave up a quick run in the bottom of the first but immediately buckled down and never let up the rest of the way.

Working fast and relying almost exclusively on a fastball-slider combo, Rogers kept the Braves off-balance throughout. He retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced, the only two mistakes coming in the form of walks. And when he departed with one out in the sixth, he owned the longest and best start by a member of the Nats rotation so far in 2022.

“I know that I can pitch up here,” Rogers said. “Whether I’m in Triple-A or not, I just have to pitch. It’s not really a matter of where.”

Though they had nothing to show for it, the Nationals did put pressure on Braves starter Huascar Ynoa from the outset tonight. They had runners on the corners in both the first and second innings, only to strand them. So when it happened again to open the third, a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach wasn’t inappropriate.

At least until the Nats lineup put together its best sustained rally of the young season, plating five runs off Ynoa, four of them scoring with two outs.

Josh Bell delivered the first clutch hit, singling up the middle to bring home Juan Soto. But the bigger hits came from the bottom of the batting order, something that had been oh-so-absent through most of the season’s first series.

Thomas stepped to the plate with two on and two out in the third 0-for-8 in 2022 (same as Victor Robles, who wasn’t in tonight’s starting lineup). Then he went up and got a 96 mph fastball above the strike zone and whacked it off the wall in left-center for a two-run double.

“I’ve just been fighting myself a bit on the fastball, trying to almost just put them in play instead of taking aggressive swings,” Thomas said. “I was just trying to get on top of a fastball. All their guys tonight threw hard. It worked out a few times.”

Moments later, Franco came through with the final blow that knocked Ynoa from the game: a two-run homer to left, one of three hits on the night for the veteran third baseman who entered 1-for-13.

“That was great adjustments for me today,” Franco said, citing his ability to lay off the breaking balls he chased over the weekend against the Mets. “Don’t try to do anything. Just go out there and see the ball and have a good game for me, for my team. That’s what I did today.”

Franco and the Nationals weren’t done. They tacked on five more runs in the eighth, getting a bases-loaded double from the suddenly red-hot third baseman who completed a 4-for-5, five-RBI performance on a night in which everything went right for the visitors against the defending champs.

“It was awesome,” Martinez said. “We struggled a little bit the first few games. We got a big win (Sunday), and then to come here and play these guys - who are very good - to jump out like we did and score as many runs as we did was a good day. A good first game of a series.”


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