Nats score early, not late, in penultimate-game loss to Braves (updated)


ATLANTA – Davey Martinez was prepared to go to his “A” bullpen again tonight, prepared to ask Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan to close out one more game that was there for the taking late.

Just one problem: The Nationals lineup couldn’t do its part to make up a two-run deficit to the Braves. Or score after the first inning, for that matter.

Despite jumping out to a quick lead against Atlanta ace Spencer Strider, the Nats went silent at the plate the rest of the night and wound up losing 5-3 in the season’s penultimate game.

So instead of handing the ball to Harvey and Finnegan at the end, Martinez instead went to Cory Abbott and, ultimately, Tanner Rainey, who pitched the bottom of the eighth in his first major league appearance since July 10, 2022, after which he needed Tommy John surgery.

Rainey, at one point last season the Nationals’ closer, tossed a scoreless inning allowing an infield single and a walk on 18 pitches, his fastball hitting 96-97 mph, his slider striking out Orlando Arcia. It was just one more step – albeit a big one – in a long-term rehab plan the team hopes ends with the hard-throwing right-hander holding a prominent role in next year’s bullpen.

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What's still at stake for Nats in season's final weekend

CJ Abrams

We have reached the final weekend of the 2023 season, with the Nationals closing things up in Atlanta against a Braves team that already locked up a sixth straight division title and owns the majors’ best record.

In the big picture, there’s not a whole lot at stake at Truist Park over the next three nights. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing at stake. On a smaller scale, and for several individual players, there are goals still within reach.

Here are a few things to watch for in Games 160, 161 and 162 …

* Nats try to get to 70
Does it matter if the Nationals finish with 69 wins, 70 wins, 71 wins or 72 wins? Not really. But there is a symbolic reason for them to want to at least get to 70. After going 55-107 last season, a 15-game improvement would be considerable. And there’s just something that makes 70 wins sound more respectable than 69 wins.

Not long ago, 70 appeared to be a lock, and 75 or more was within reach. Following back-to-back wins in Miami in late-August, the Nats were 61-69, which equated to 76-86 over the full season. But they’ve gone a dismal 8-21 since then, and now they find themselves still needing to eke out one more win this weekend to at least get to 70.

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Nats enjoy rare laugher, take series from White Sox (updated)

Thomas Meneses Ruiz white

There have been precious few of these – genuine laughers – during the course of the season, certainly over the last month-plus as the Nationals have needed to scratch and claw their way to any win they could secure.

The Nats hadn’t won a game by more than four runs since Aug. 11 against the Athletics. They hadn’t won a game by more than six runs since July 22 against the Giants. They hadn't won a game by 10 or more runs since April 29, 2022.

So consider this afternoon’s 13-3 thumping of the White Sox a much-needed, well-deserved walk in the park. A team that has looked like it’s running on fumes down the stretch of the season finally had an opportunity to enjoy a victory that was firmly in their grasp the entire way.

"It's great anytime we can score some runs early, score a lot of runs and pitch well," first baseman Dominic Smith said. "Those games are fun. Those are my favorite games."

In the process today, the Nationals secured their 18th series victory of the season, six more than they managed during their nightmare of a 55-107 campaign in 2022. With nine games left on schedule, but all coming against the teams with the two best records in baseball in the Braves and Orioles, it was imperative to lock up wins No. 67 and 68 against the White Sox now to make the path to 70 by season’s end a bit more palatable.

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Meneses' big blast rewards Rutledge's quality start (updated)

Meneses blue

The most important development of tonight’s ballgame on South Capitol Street was Jackson Rutledge’s second career start, one that saw the rookie right-hander reach the seventh inning on 78 pitches and allow only two runs.

The most satisfying moment of tonight’s game, though, came on one big swing from Joey Meneses, which ensured Rutledge’s quality start wouldn’t be for naught.

Meneses’ pinch-hit, three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh provided the clutch hit the Nationals had been seeking all night and ultimately propelled them to a 4-3 victory over the White Sox.

"It was beautiful," manager Davey Martinez said. "One thing I know about Joey: You put runners on base, there's a good chance he's going to hit it hard."

Shut down throughout the evening by José Ureña, who spent the summer pitching for Triple-A Rochester before getting released and picked up by Chicago, the Nats finally did something at the plate once they had the chance to face the White Sox bullpen.

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Walks doom Adon in loss to Pirates (updated)


PITTSBURGH – Joan Adon has been a mixed bag of results since he rejoined the Nationals rotation as its sixth man in early August. But the one constant was his results on the road.

For whatever reason, his two best outings came in his two starts away from Nationals Park. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning on Aug. 5 in Cincinnati, settling for a quality start of three runs in six frames, and then took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Aug. 25 in Miami, settling for six shutout innings.

But Adon could not keep that streak going as he got knocked around by the Pirates in an eventual 5-1 loss in front of an announced crowd of 9,222 on a cool night at PNC Park.

As has been the case in previous rough outings, Adon struggled with walks and home runs tonight. Between those two starts in Cincinnati and Miami, he issued no walks and only allowed one homer. In his four other starts (all at home), he surrendered eight walks and two homers.

Adon issued a career-high six walks (one intentional) and a two-run home run to Joshua Palacios on his way to being charged with eight hits and four runs in just four innings plus three batters.

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Meneses embraces role as Nats' top run producer

Joey Meneses blue jersey

TORONTO – Early this season, when the prospect of hitting a home run felt like the toughest challenge in the world, Joey Meneses tried to remember there were other ways to be a productive offensive player.

“We talked a lot the beginning of the year about him wanting to hit more home runs,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “But I told him: ‘Look, you’re driving in runs, and that’s really important. The home runs will come.’ Which they did. But more so than that, he’s become that clutch RBI guy for us.”

The homers did come in a brief spurt earlier this summer, with Meneses hitting nine of his 11 in a 26-game span from July 7-Aug. 8. But for the most part, the 31-year-old designated hitter has needed to turn to a different skill to feel like he’s fully contributing to the team’s cause: Driving runners in from scoring position.

Meneses continues to excel in that department, and he was up to his old tricks again Monday night, delivering an RBI single in the first and a two-run double in the fifth to account for all of the Nats’ runs during a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

Those were the Nationals’ only two hits in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a frustrating fact about a frustrating loss. But it was merely a continuation of the job Meneses has been doing all season, even when he’s not hitting for power.

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Nats can't overcome Gray's early exit, lose to Jays (updated)

gray pitches blue

TORONTO – It would be one thing if this dud of a start from Josiah Gray came out of nowhere, if it was a surprising blip on an otherwise clean radar and could be brushed off as simply a bad night.

Unfortunately, this felt more like the inevitable low point of a bad month for the Nationals’ young right-hander, who lasted only two innings while allowing four runs and digging his team into an early hole it could not escape during an eventual 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

Unable to find the strike zone with any consistency, and unable to pitch his way out of jams the way he did earlier this season, Gray wasn’t even given the opportunity to try to right his ship this time. Davey Martinez turned to his bullpen early in hopes of keeping the game close.

"I just didn't have it today," Gray said. "I feel for the guys in the bullpen. Having to cover six innings is never easy. I just feel for those guys. Obviously, want to continue to throw the ball out there and keep the team somewhat in the game. But I just didn't have it today."

The bullpen did keep the deficit within striking distance. The Nats lineup, though, couldn’t make the most of early scoring opportunities against Kevin Gausman, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and then getting shut down completely by the Toronto bullpen.

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A day the Nationals (and Little Leaguers) will never forget

Josiah Gray LLWS

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Every member of the Nationals’ traveling party arrived here Sunday morning with some personal expectation what the experience would be like. And every one of them left town at the end of the night with the same reaction: It was nothing like they expected it to be. It was so much more than that.

CJ Abrams: “Growing up and watching Little League, and actually getting to go to the field, it’s a lot more exciting than you think it is.”

Josiah Gray: “A lot bigger than I expected. Because on TV, you see just the field and some of the crowd. But to see the field itself and how big the stands were, along with how expansive the hill was, it was huge.”

Kyle Finnegan: “It was pretty crazy. A lot of kids, a lot of fans.”

Davey Martinez: “It blew me away. TV doesn’t do it any justice of what it is. I was amazed.”

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Nats win another series and match last year's win total (updated)

downs runs white

There are far loftier goals on the Nationals’ checklist, certainly once the calendar flips to 2024. This is a franchise that won’t consider the rebuild it embarked on two years ago a true success until it’s playing in October again.

But it takes steps to get there, and today the Nats took a meaningful step on their projected path back to contention: With a 10-7 victory over the Red Sox that proved far more tenuous than it should have been, they secured their 55th win, matching their total from last season with 40 games still remaining on the schedule.

Nobody ever deemed another 55-107 season acceptable. Improvement was always expected this year. But at this rate, the improvement is going to be significant, the kind not often found from one year to the next.

The Nats are now on pace for 73 wins this season, an 18-game improvement. That would match the best one-year improvement in club history, one that came from 2011-12 when an 80-win upstart turned into a 98-win division champion.

"It's fun, because I preach all the time about keeping things simple, doing the little things," manager Davey Martinez said. "The baserunning. Throwing strikes. Getting outs. Playing good defense. And it's come to fruition. When you can do those things, you have a chance to win consistently. And we've been doing that for the last month. It's been a lot of fun."

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Nats are winning by winning the late innings

Kyle Finnegan

The Nationals, you may have heard, are playing winning baseball right now.

After a weekend sweep of the Athletics, they improved to 15-8 since July 21. They’re 19-12 since July 8, which is the best record in the National League East during that time, third-best in the NL.

Something clearly has to be going right for this team that wasn’t going right earlier in the season. Or last season. Or the season before that. But what exactly is going so right for them to cause such a dramatic turnaround?

You can find improvement in just about every aspect of play, from a lineup that is scoring more runs to a defense that is committing fewer errors to a bullpen that has dramatically become one of the most effective in the league in recent weeks. And all of that is true.

But if you really want to boil it all down to one key factor, here it is: The Nationals are winning the late innings.

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Meneses blasts Nats to bounceback win in nightcap (updated)

meneses hype

PHILADELPHIA – After an 8-4 loss in the doubleheader opener – in which the Phillies hit four home runs to the Nationals’ two – the plan for Washington in the nightcap was simple: keep the ball in the yard. And if you can continue to hit them out yourself, even better.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, home runs played a big role in the second game.

The Nationals were able to homer to take an early lead, homer to tie the game late and then homer to win 5-4 in the nightcap in front of 40,264 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

"As I always say, this team just keeps battling," manager Davey Martinez said after the second game. "You play hard for 27 outs, anything can happen in this ballpark. You just got to try to get the ball in the air."

Facing a 4-2 deficit thanks to a Bryce Harper two-run home run and Bryson Stott RBI single in the fifth, Joey Meneses responded with a two-run shot of his own in the seventh.

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Game 114 lineups: Nats at Phillies


PHILADELPHIA – Now let’s play two!

The Nationals lost to the Phillies 8-4 in Game 1. Josiah Gray will try to get them back on the winning track, mainly by keeping the ball in the yard after the Phillies hit four home runs in the opener.

Gray is 7-9 with a 3.54 ERA and 1.426 WHIP over his first 22 starts. He has only surrendered 15 homers so far for a 2.8 home run rate, much better than the 38 homers and 5.9 homer rate he allowed last year. 

He is, however, coming off one of his worst starts of the season when he allowed five runs and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning last week against the Brewers. The good news is the right-hander has been good at bouncing back from tough outings this year and he pitches well at Citizens Bank Park. Gray has allowed two runs or less in two of his three career starts in Philly with 23 combined strikeouts.

Ranger Suárez starts the nightcap for the Phillies after he was originally scheduled to start yesterday’s postponed opener. He’s 6-1 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.336 WHIP in 13 appearances (six starts) against the Nats. The left-hander is 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.325 WHIP in 62 career games (30 starts) at Citizens Bank Park, but he’s 0-2 with a 5.70 ERA and 1.459 WHIP in seven home starts this year.

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Game 111 lineups: Nats at Reds

adon throws @MIA blue

CINCINNATI – Don’t look now, but the Nationals are playing some pretty good baseball. Seriously. They’ve won nine of their last 14 games, and they’re 19-16 since June 24, when they opened up a solid West Coast trip in San Diego and Seattle. That’s actually the sixth-best record in the National League during that time frame, 11th-best in the majors.

They’ll look to keep the good vibes going tonight and capture another series against a quality opponent if they can defeat the Reds again, though they’ll do so with something of a surprise starter on the mound: Joan Adon.

This was supposed to be Trevor Williams’ turn in the rotation, but the right-hander isn’t expected back from bereavement leave until Sunday, so the team needed a fill-in for this game. That fill-in is Adon, who makes his first big league start of the season, his third overall appearance. The 24-year-old right-hander wasn’t exactly tearing it up at Triple-A Rochester (3-5, 4.62 ERA, 1.506 WHIP in 17 starts) but his strikeout numbers of late (13 in his last 11 innings) have been good, so maybe that’s a sign of something.

The Nationals face a good young left-hander in rookie Andrew Abbott, a University of Virginia alum who enters with a 6-2 record, 2.35 ERA and 1.031 WHIP over his first 11 big league starts. Davey Martinez counters with a right-handed-heavy lineup that includes Joey Meneses at first base, Keibert Ruiz as DH, Riley Adams behind the plate and Stone Garrett in left field.

One other note: To clear a spot on the active roster for Adon, the Nats placed Mason Thompson on the 15-day injured list with a left knee contusion. The reliever hadn’t pitched since Monday, but IL moves can only be backdated three days, so that means he’s eligible to return Aug. 17.

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Thomas, Meneses launch Nats to comeback win (updated)

thomas gray

CINCINNATI – The Nationals, as anyone who has watched them all season knows, don’t hit home runs. The Reds, as anyone who has watched them in recent months knows, try to win games less with power and more with speed.

So wouldn’t you know all but one run scored in tonight’s series opener at Great American Ball Park came via the long ball. Including some really big ones from two of the Nats’ most important hitters.

Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses combined to launch three homers from the sixth through 10th innings, with Thomas’ second blast of the night serving as the final blow in the Nationals’ come-from-behind, 6-3 victory in extras.

Jake Alu’s latest clutch hit, an RBI double over the first baseman’s head, drove home automatic runner Ildemaro Vargas with the go-ahead run off Cincinnati closer Alexis Díaz. It was Alu’s third RBI in as many days since his promotion from Triple-A Rochester to replace traded third baseman Jeimer Candelario.

"He gives himself a chance," manager Davey Martinez told reporters afterward. "He battles up there. Even though he gets to two strikes, he battles and battles and battles until he gets a pitch to hit. Does a great job of moving the guys over, then driving them in."

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Meneses again delivers for Nats after teammate traded (updated)

Joey Meneses blue home

With their No. 3 hitter on his way to the North Side of Chicago, the Nationals face the daunting proposition of making up for lost production from a lineup that doesn’t have a lot of proven producers to begin with.

Fortunately, they have a guy who has already proven he can deliver at the plate at the trade deadline.

Joey Meneses, who famously homered in his major league debut hours after the Nats traded Juan Soto one year ago, did it again tonight. The 31-year-old designated hitter opened the bottom of the second with a blast to left field, his sixth homer in 19 games. Then he delivered a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh that gave the Nationals the 5-3 lead over the Brewers they would hold onto the rest of the night.

Only 30 minutes after they dealt Jeimer Candelario to the Cubs for two prospects, the Nats took the field with a depleted lineup, hoping someone else could step up and produce some runs for them tonight and over the season’s final two months.

They wound up with two someones coming through: Lane Thomas, who drove in a pair of runs, and Meneses, who drove in the other three in a familiar position.

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Meneses gets rare day off, Thompson tries to right ship again

Jeimer Candelario hitting in red

NEW YORK – It’s a rare thing to see a Nationals lineup without Joey Meneses in it. Aside from two games he missed in May for the birth of his son, Meneses has been on the bench only five times this year.

He’s got tonight off, though, as manager Davey Martinez looks to field what he thinks may be a better matchup against Max Scherzer and simultaneously give Jeimer Candelario a chance to rest his feet.

With Meneses sitting, Candelario is serving as designated hitter against the Mets. That opens up third base for Ildemaro Vargas.

“I wanted to give Candy a DH day,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Facing Max, the slider can be tough. So I’m just giving him a day.”

Candelario has been taking a beating in recent weeks, getting hit by pitch four times in his last 14 games and also taking a bad-bounce grounder off his right thumb, resulting in a bone bruise that knocked him out of the lineup for two days.

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Meneses' late blast caps Nats' comeback after two delays (updated)

meneses homer red

The first rain delay – in which it never rained hard enough for the infield to be covered – was frustrating. The second rain delay – in which it did actually rain and sent everyone running for cover in the top of the seventh – was more frustrating.

But at the end of a long night of baseball, there was no frustration in the home clubhouse at Nationals Park. There were nothing but smiles after a rousing, come-from-behind, 6-5 victory over the Rockies that only came to fruition after all the misery and waiting that predated it.

Joey Meneses’ three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth capped a four-run rally and propelled the Nats to a much-needed victory on the heels of an ugly loss the previous night. It was witnessed by only a fraction of the 18,182 who paid to attend tonight’s game, but those who were still there at 11:35 p.m. to see Meneses launch a 1-1 pitch from right-hander Justin Lawrence deep to left were glad they waited it out.

The Nationals trailed 4-1 when the evening’s second rain delay disrupted the top of the seventh. When the game resumed at 10:59 p.m., they sprang back to life.

"It's not so much frustrating as it was a little tedious," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Just a little boring, the way you get yourself warmed up, then you have to stop and do it all over again. But it definitely was very satisfactory to be able to pull off the win. Especially because if we would've stopped the game because of the rain delay, we would've lost the game."

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Nats start long day with extra-inning win (updated)

Joey Meneses swing blue away

ST. LOUIS – Not that he wanted to be in this position, restarting a game in the bottom of the third that began the previous night. But if ever there was a time for the Nationals to be in this position, this was it.

Davey Martinez had an exceedingly rested bullpen coming out of the All-Star break, an extra long reliever taking the spot of Patrick Corbin while he’s on paternity leave and the ability to use anyone he wanted at any point in an attempt to win this afternoon’s completion of Friday night’s suspended game against the Cardinals.

Turns out the Nationals won this game not because of their well-rested bullpen, but because of a productive lineup that kept making up for the bullpen's mistakes.

Ultimately, it was back-to-back singles by CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas in the top of the 10th that allowed the Nats to plate a pair of runs off Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks and emerge with a hard-earned 7-5 victory to get this long day and night of baseball off to an uplifting start.

"It was a good day for our hitters," said Martinez, whose team has won three in a row sandwiched around the All-Star break and is now 22-22 on the road this season. "I wish we would've won a little bit earlier, but the bullpen came in and held it down. We played well."

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Nats enter All-Star break with series win over Rangers (updated)

josiah gray pitches grey

As the baseball world turns to tonight’s Major League Baseball Draft and the upcoming All-Star Game festivities, there were still games to be played today before the close of the season’s unofficial first half.

For the Nationals, that meant going for a series win against the first-place Rangers before they make the second overall pick later tonight.

It’s been a tough week – and to a greater extent month – for the Nats on South Capitol Street. Entering today’s finale, they had lost 15 of their last 17 home games, last night’s 8-4 win being one of the two exceptions.

But after losing six straight at home after Friday, the Nationals now enter the All-Star break as the winners of two straight with this afternoon’s 7-2 victory over the Rangers in front of 17,547 fans in attendance.

“Well, it's a good way to finish off. Boys played well," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "It was good. You're playing a team that's got some horses over there. To come out the way we did the last two games was awesome. These guys, I'm proud of the way they're playing and the way they played."

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More on Meneses' big swings

Joey Meneses Cherry blossom

The day before the All-Star break is always a slow one. It’s especially slow when playing a noon game after a night game that included an hour and 17-minute rain delay.

Guys are packing their bags to head home for the break and making sure all of their gear is ready to be shipped to meet the team in St. Louis at the end of the week.

So let’s talk more about the Nationals’ biggest development over this weekend, shall we?

Joey Meneses’ swing may be back.

After only hitting two home runs over the first 87 games of the season, he hit three in less than 24 hours in the previous two. Over the first two games against the Rangers, Meneses has gone 4-for-8 with a double, three homers, four RBIs and no strikeouts.

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