PHOENIX – A lot happened during Saturday night’s game, a wild 8-7 loss to the Diamondbacks. The Nationals got nine strikeouts from MacKenzie Gore in six innings. They pulled off a five-run rally in the top of the ninth, four of those runs scoring with two outs. They gave it back in the bottom of the ninth when Kyle Finnegan retired only one of the six batters he faced.
There were other developments of note, as well. And those shouldn’t be ignored as you process everything that took place in this highly eventful ballgame …
* Keibert Ruiz snapped out of his slump in a big way.
The young catcher insisted Friday night he wouldn’t hang his head after striking out three times and seeing his slump extend to 0-for-16. He made good on that promise Saturday, delivering a two-run double in the fourth and then a towering homer to lead off the ninth.
These were important swings for Ruiz. Not simply because of the results, but because of the authority with which he connected for those hits. His double carried an exit velocity of 106.4 mph. His homer was actually a bit lower, at 104.7 mph. He even made loud contact on a second-inning groundout to short, a ball that left his bat at 99.7 mph.
One of the concerns about Ruiz has been his penchant for weak contact. That wasn’t the case Saturday night. And the Nationals hope it won’t be the case more often than not moving forward.
* Finnegan isn’t the only reliever struggling.
The bottom of the ninth represented the most demoralizing moment of the night, but Finnegan wasn’t alone in getting roughed up out of the bullpen. Two other key late-inning arms also had trouble.
Carl Edwards Jr. allowed what at the time was the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the seventh, via an Alek Thomas triple down the first base line and a Ketel Marte RBI single. Edwards owned an 0.96 ERA on April 22. In five appearances since, spanning 3 2/3 innings, he has allowed two runs on four hits and five walks, striking out only two. He allowed an inherited runner to score. And he has seen his ERA rise to 2.08.
Mason Thompson had a nightmare of an eighth inning, allowing three runs to score on four singles and an error. The big right-hander has now been scored upon in four of his last five appearances, a stretch that began in the wake of his three-inning save in New York and has seen his ERA balloon from 0.96 to 3.43.
With Finnegan and Hunter Harvey working as much as they have, the Nationals desperately need others in their bullpen to step up and record outs in situations of consequence. Edwards and Thompson would be at the top of that list.
* Victor Robles and Jeimer Candelario updates: Robles came out of the game in the fourth inning, replaced by Alex Call after he hurt his back sliding into second on a stolen base attempt. Manager Davey Martinez said he’d have to see how Robles is feeling in the morning before determining his status for today’s series finale.
Also uncertain is Candelario, who spent Friday night in the hospital after falling ill from dehydration. The 29-year-old third baseman did come to Chase Field for a while Saturday but returned to the team hotel at some point so he could rest.
With a quick turnaround to today’s 1:10 p.m. local time first pitch, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Nationals leave Robles and Candelario on the bench today.