Sánchez's surprise surge continues in Nats win over Marlins (updated)

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MIAMI – The notion of Aníbal Sánchez wrapping up the season as the Nationals’ most consistently effective starter would’ve sounded ludicrous two months ago, when the notion of Sánchez still being a member of the Nats rotation seemed far-fetched.

Funny how things play out, though, because as the 2022 campaign winds down there’s really no disputing the fact that the Nationals’ best starter has been a 38-year-old right-hander who sat out the entire 2021 season and then missed 3 1/2 months this season with a neck injury.

Sánchez added another impressive chapter to his out-of-nowhere resurgence this afternoon, tossing five scoreless innings and allowing only two hits to the Marlins during a feel-good, 6-1 victory over the franchise for whom he made his major league debut 16 long years ago.

Thanks to the efforts of Sánchez, four relievers, another Joey Meneses home run and three hits from CJ Abrams, the Nationals left town with one win to salvage the weekend. They end their season series against the Marlins with an abysmal 4-15 record, but today’s win at least ensured they didn’t drop a 16th game to one opponent for the first time in club history.

They also avoided reaching the 100-loss mark for the first time since 2009, though it will take a perfect 10-0 finish now against the Braves, Phillies and Mets to prevent that inevitable event from occurring.

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

Josiah Gray blue home

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."

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Nats squander chances in 4-3 loss to Orioles (updated)

Cory Abbott throw white

The way they jumped out to an early lead, this felt like a night that would see the Nationals keep putting runners on base and keep threatening to add to that lead. Turns out they wouldn’t score again, and the one time they seriously threatened, their rookie shortstop ran himself out of the inning.

This 4-3 loss to the Orioles was frustrating, though for different reasons than many previous losses were. There was no bullpen meltdown. There was no critical defensive mistake. There was no disastrous outing by the starting pitcher.

Instead, this one-run loss saw the Nationals lineup go cold after the third inning, then botch its last best chance to tie the game when CJ Abrams tried to advance to third base on a ground ball right in front of him to kill a sixth-inning rally.

"He's young and wanting to get to third base, knew he had to get to third base," manager Davey Martinez said. "But that situation, you've got to see the ball through. You've got to get back to second and see what happens. It's just a young mistake. He knew right away: He should've gone back."

Abrams, whose play of late has mostly been sensational, led off the inning with a double to the gap in left-center, knocking Baltimore starter Dean Kremer from the game. But when reliever Dillon Tate immediately got Israel Pineda to hit a sharp grounder to short, Abams took off for third, an ill-advised gamble.

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Corbin suffers 18th loss as Nats drop opener in Philly (updated)

Patrick Corbin throwing gray back

PHILADELPHIA – Patrick Corbin and Noah Syndergaard, at their best, were high-strikeout pitchers. Double-digit totals were regular occurrences for both starters, back when Corbin was leading the Nationals and Syndergaard was leading the Mets deep into Octobers of yesteryear.

That’s not who either guy is right now, Corbin because he’s devolved into a shell of his former self, Syndergaard because he missed considerable time with major arm injuries.

So when they faced off tonight at Citizens Bank Park, the fast-paced ballgame that ensued featured precious few strikeouts, zero walks by either starter and a whole lot of early contact by both lineups.

The Phillies managed to make more out of their contact than the Nationals did, emerging with a 5-3 victory that left Corbin to suffer his 18th loss of the season.

Corbin, who allowed five runs and a whopping 12 hits over 6 2/3 innings despite throwing only 69 pitches, is the majors’ first 18-game loser since Chris Archer and James Shields each lost 19 in 2016. Barring a change in the Nats’ rotation plans, he’s on track to make four more starts this year as he attempts to avoid becoming the sport’s first 20-game loser in nearly two decades.

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Abrams gets night off, García stays at second base

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ST LOUIS – There’s a line of thinking that the last kind of players who need days off are young players. Certainly, their bodies aren’t in need of regular rest.

There’s more than one reason for a day off, though. And for some young players, a mental day off can be more important than a physical one.

That’s why Davey Martinez has CJ Abrams sitting tonight, just as he did six days earlier. The Nationals rookie shortstop is fine physically, but his manager believes he would benefit from a quick break to clear his mind and focus on working on some fundamentals without the pressure of having a game to play as well.

“We’re asking him to do a lot,” Martinez said. “Even between the games, he’s getting a lot of work in. My thought is: We’ve got a day game tomorrow, give him a break today. We’ve got another lefty today (in Cardinals starter Jordan Montgomery). Just giving him a little breather, and we’ll get him back out there tomorrow. …

“He’s doing great. For me, it’s just part of the process with him.”

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More comfortable Abrams starting to put things together

CJ Abrams swing red home

ST. LOUIS – His first at-bat produced in the first triple of his career. His second produced one of the hardest exit velocities of his career. His third produced an infield single in which he could show off his elite speed. His fourth produced the first three-hit game of his career.

And when he singled again in his fifth and final at-bat Monday at Busch Stadium, CJ Abrams had himself the first four-hit game of his career, capping off a fantastic afternoon at the plate by the Nationals’ rookie shortstop.

“Every time I’m at the plate, I’m getting more and more comfortable,” he said.

There’s no disputing that. After a sluggish start to his time in D.C., Abrams is beginning to look like the highly skilled hitter and defender the Nats believed they were getting from the Padres all along in last month’s Juan Soto trade.

With only six hits in his first 44 at-bats, Abrams at times looked overwhelmed by big league pitching. Through it all, manager Davey Martinez insisted it was only a matter of time before the 21-year-old started to apply what he was being coached and saw the results to match.

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Nats topple Cards to keep September surge going (updated)

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ST. LOUIS – The 2022 season was never going to be about wins and losses for the Nationals. It was always going to be about development, and the hope that there would be more reason to be optimistic by season’s end than there was at the outset.

It’s still far too soon to declare anything in that regard, and the current roster has a whole lot of work still to do to try to erase the foul stench of April through August. But there is no doubt the last couple of weeks have offered as many encouraging developments as anyone around here has seen all year, peaking this Labor Day weekend.

Today’s 6-0 victory over the Cardinals was the Nationals’ third straight over a first-place opponent, coming on the heels of back-to-back, 7-1 road wins over the Mets. They’ve now won six of eight for only the second time this year, and they’ve won nine of 16 for the first time in 2022.

"I think it shows you what we can do when everyone's clicking at the same time," outfielder Lane Thomas said. "It's been fun. The last 10 days or so, it's been awesome."

The results, of course, are welcomed by everyone, but just as encouraging are the primary players who are making these results possible. The young core general manager Mike Rizzo is trying to assemble in the wake of the massive sell-off of the last two summers is beginning to take shape and beginning to look like something worth building around.

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Nats preaching patience with struggling Abrams

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CJ Abrams has never struggled to hit. Not as a teenager, when he was named Georgia High School Player of the Year. Not as a first-time professional, when he hit .401 in 32 games with the Padres’ rookie ball team in Arizona. Not last season at Double-A, where he had a .363 on-base percentage in 42 games before suffering a leg injury. And not this season at Triple-A, where he posted an .840 OPS in 38 games.

Twelve games into his Nationals career, though, Abrams’ offensive struggles are hard to ignore. He’s just 6-for-44 so far, good for a .136 batting average. He has zero extra base hits. He has yet to draw a walk. He has yet to score a run. He has struck out 12 times.

Extremely small sample, yes. But if you’ve been watching and wondering where the highly touted prospect’s offensive game is, you’re not alone.

“At times, you can see he gets a little frustrated,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And I have to reiterate: ‘Hey, you’re doing fine.’ ”

As he’s done with countless other young players struggling to get going at the plate, Martinez makes sure to mention how he hit .139 in 53 games as a rookie with the Cubs in 1986. He went on to have a long and productive career, finishing with a .276/.341/.389 slash line and 1,599 hits across 16 major league seasons.

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Cavalli struggles to get a grip in erratic debut (updated)

cavalli debut

They watched Cade Cavalli take the mound at 7:05 p.m. on a muggy August evening in the nation’s capital with the kind of anticipation that only comes when a highly rated pitching prospect makes his major league debut.

And when he departed 93 minutes later, all anyone in attendance at Nationals Park could do was feel some mixed combination of emotions.

Clearly, there were things to like about Cavalli’s debut, most notably the fact he struck out six of the first 16 Reds batters he faced. And clearly, there were things to be concerned about regarding the 4 1/3-inning start, namely the seven runs that were charged to him as he struggled mightily to command his repertoire while he sweated buckets on the mound.

It will be some time before we can look back at this 7-3 loss to Cincinnati and say definitively whether it presaged what was to come for Cavalli, or whether it was an insignificant blip to begin a standout career. Suffice it to say, there weren’t a whole lot of conclusions to draw from this, except to note the 24-year-old right-hander obviously has the stuff to get big league hitters out … but only when he commands it well.

Over the course of his 99-pitch debut, Cavalli threw just 57 strikes. Some of his misses were close, with all credit going to the Reds for not chasing after them. But a good number of them didn’t come anywhere close to the strike zone, especially the three errant curveballs that plunked opposing right-handed hitters.

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García on field for first time since going on IL, Voit scratched

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SAN DIEGO – From the moment they acquired him in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade, the Nationals envisioned CJ Abrams as their starting shortstop, with Luis García joining him up the middle as his double-play partner. And the intention was to make sure the two young infielders got as many opportunities to play together as possible before season’s end.

Abrams’ eventual promotion from Triple-A Rochester, though, coincided with García’s placement on the 10-day injured list with a left groin strain, thus preventing the two from playing together yet.

They’re getting close to the day when they can do it, though. And this afternoon, they did work together in the field for the first time when García participated in early drills for the first time since going on the IL six days ago.

Abrams and García took grounders together prior to batting practice, then also took swings in the cage together. It was a significant hurdle for García to cross in his recovery from injury, suggesting he could be ready to return shortly after he’s eligible to come back (Tuesday, at the earliest).

“He felt good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “So we’ve just got to progress now, and hopefully he continues to do well. We’ll have to come up with a plan, whether we want to send him out a few days to play (on a minor league rehab assignment) to see if he’s OK. Let’s see how he comes out of this, and how he feels tomorrow.”

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Nats rally twice but still lose another in extras (updated)

corbin pitching home red

The Nationals managed to rally to get Patrick Corbin off the hook for his 17th loss of the season by scoring in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

They managed to rally to tie the game again in the bottom of the 10th, thanks to CJ Abrams’ well-timed first hit since joining the club.

But because they couldn’t deliver one final clutch hit in the 11th inning, they were still left to suffer their 79th loss of the season, yet another one in extra frames.

After both teams pushed across their automatic runner in the 10th, the Cubs scored twice in the 11th, getting an RBI double from Patrick Wisdom and a run-scoring single from Seiya Suzuki off Victor Arano. And when the Nats failed to mount one last rally in the bottom of the inning, they wound up on the wrong end of a wild, 7-5 ballgame.

It was the Nationals’ seventh loss in eight extra-inning games this season. Over the last two years, they’re now 3-18 in extras. They’re still seeking their first walk-off win of 2022.

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Game 118 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

Patrick Corbin throw white back

The Nationals had won the opener of only one of their last 12 series entering this one. And the single outlier, believe it or not, was against the Dodgers last month. That’s also the only series the Nats have gone on to win during this stretch. So perhaps Monday night’s victory over the Cubs portends even more to come before this series wraps up Wednesday afternoon.

Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams and Nelson Cruz were the story of Monday’s 5-4 win. The story going into tonight’s game is Patrick Corbin, who returns to make his first start since failing to get out of the first inning 10 days ago in Philadelphia, a disastrous outing that came only 10 days after he also failed to get out of the first inning in Los Angeles.

The Nationals are hoping this little break (which included two bullpen sessions to work on several things) will do Corbin some good. It better, because if he lays another egg tonight against the Cubs … well, who knows what the club’s next move would be?

Justin Steele makes his second straight start against the Nats tonight. The left-hander held them to two runs over six innings Wednesday at Wrigley Field, allowing an RBI double to César Hernndez and a solo homer to Joey Meneses.

CHICAGO CUBS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where:
Nationals Park

Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 8 mph in from right field

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Kids impress, but veteran Cruz steals show in Nats win (updated)

cruz white homer

The night was supposed to belong to the kids. To CJ Abrams, the 21-year-old shortstop making his Nationals debut. To Josiah Gray, the 24-year-old right-hander who was given an opportunity by his manager to pitch his own way out of a jam at the end of his start.

And then 42-year-old Nelson Cruz decided to remind these young whippersnappers he’s still the most accomplished player on the roster.

With a pair of clutch hits – a two-run double in the fifth, then a solo homer in the eighth – Cruz lifted the Nationals to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs, stealing the show from his far less experienced teammates.

"He could be my son," Cruz said of Abrams, almost in disbelief at the thought. "It's nice to see those guys playing for their careers. I was in their shoes once, and I know what every game means, every at-bat. It is beautiful."

The eighth-inning blast, a 396-foot shot to left-center off Chicago reliever Brandon Hughes, was Cruz’s first home run since June 25 at Texas, an extraordinarily long drought for a guy who has launched 458 of them during a career that began in 2005 (the same year the Nats debuted in D.C.).

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Abrams will get first crack to prove trade was worth it

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The final 46 games of a miserable season need to mean something to the Nationals. It’s far too late for the outcomes of these games to mean much of anything, but there’s still an opportunity to use what remains of the 2022 campaign on setting the stage for what’s to come in 2023 and beyond.

And the best way the Nats can do that is by getting a good look at any potential long-term pieces to the puzzle who are ready to play in the big leagues. Which makes tonight’s series opener against the Cubs as significant a game as they’ve played all summer.

With CJ Abrams set to be promoted from Triple-A Rochester and make his debut at shortstop, the first of five prospects the organization acquired from the Padres in this month’s Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade will be in uniform and in action on South Capitol Street.

Abrams is probably going to be the only one to play for the Nats for a little while longer. MacKenzie Gore, who was on the injured list with left elbow inflammation at the time of the trade, has begun throwing again but remains weeks away from pitching in a game. The three other prospects (Robert Hassell III, James Wood, Jarlin Susana) are still years away from making their major league debuts.

So that puts some significant pressure on Abrams, who is merely going to be asked to prove the trade was worthwhile via only his own performance on the field.

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