Meneses understands need to make most of latest opportunity

meneses swinging gray

DETROIT – Since the moment he burst onto the scene in August 2022, Joey Meneses has been a mainstay in the Nationals lineup. Whatever days off he had, they were scattered, even as his production at the plate dipped.

And then 2 1/2 weeks ago, with Lane Thomas off the injured list and the team now having a bit of a glut of outfielders and first basemen, Meneses suddenly became a part-time player for the first time. He started only seven of the Nats’ 15 games from May 27-June 11, relegated to the bench and a couple of pinch-hitting opportunities.

“Obviously I would like to be on the field more often, but my numbers are not where we expect them to be,” said Meneses, whose OPS was down to .581 at the time, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I definitely respect the manager’s decision with that. I just have to be ready whenever he calls upon me to play, be ready to help the team out.”

All of a sudden, Davey Martinez is calling upon Meneses to play again. When Joey Gallo strained his left hamstring running out a ground ball Tuesday night, Meneses was thrust back into the daily lineup, back to playing first base regularly.

And in his first start since the Gallo injury, he delivered. Meneses went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and a key double that led to another run during the Nationals’ 7-5 victory over the Tigers.

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Herz takes loss in debut, Nats bats shut down by Mets (updated)

DJ Herz

DJ Herz’s major league debut wasn’t the fairytale Mitchell Parker experienced two months ago at Dodger Stadium. Neither was it the nightmare suffered by countless other Nationals rookies over the last decade.

Herz wasn’t great in his first career start. Neither was he bad. The rookie left-hander pitched with some confidence, escaped a couple of early jams, then began to succumb as his evening progressed.

In the end, Herz allowed two runs while he was in the game, plus another two that were charged to him after he departed in the top of the fifth. And because his teammates did very little at the plate themselves, he wound up charged with the loss as the Nationals fell 6-3 to the Mets.

"He was a little nervous," manager Davey Martinez said. "He was sweating like crazy out there. But you know what, in big moments he kind of settled down and threw strikes and looked really good."

The Nats hoped for something more akin to Parker’s sparkling April debut in Los Angeles, when the unheralded rookie left-hander struck out Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani, went five strong innings and became the franchise’s first starting pitcher to win his major league debut since Stephen Strasburg.

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Behind early rally and Irvin's latest gem, Nats finish trip strong (updated)

Lane Thomas

CLEVELAND – The schedule has not been kind to the Nationals through the season’s first two months, from far more games on the road (35) than at home (23) to a current stretch of 17 consecutive games without a scheduled day off to a number of series against some of the top contenders in both leagues.

How have the Nats handled it all? Maybe they haven’t thrived, but they’ve more than held their own under the circumstances.

With a 5-2 victory over the Guardians today, the Nationals secured a winning road trip at 4-3. They started the week taking three of four in Atlanta. They preceded that with a series win over the American Leauge West-leading Mariners, leaving them 6-4 so far during this particularly grueling stretch heading into a seven-game homestand against the Mets and Braves.

They may have lost this weekend series to Cleveland, currently in first place in the AL Central. But they admittedly gave away Saturday’s game with several defensive and baserunning gaffes. And then they bounced back and won today’s finale despite a depleted lineup missing both CJ Abrams and Jacob Young, thanks to one big early outburst and another strong pitching performance led by Jake Irvin.

"I think to win the majority of games on a road trip, against two teams that have played really well so far this year, I think it's a win in everyone's mind," outfielder Lane Thomas said. "I think we left some stuff on the table the first two games here, but they played well. I think we definitely could've made the first game closer and maybe been in contention yesterday. But it's a tough league, and we play a lot of games for a reason. Going forward, I think we have a chance to beat a lot more good teams."

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Nats stick to winning formula to win series against Braves (updated)

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ATLANTA – The Nationals won two of the first three games against the Braves with some big hits and great pitching. They haven’t always gotten home runs, but they got one from CJ Abrams on Monday and one from Lane Thomas on Wednesday. They haven’t always seen their starter go deep in the game, but Mitchell Parker, Jake Irvin and MacKenzie Gore combined for 17 ⅔ innings.

With a chance to win the four-game series, the Nationals went back to the recipe for success that has helped them win most of their games thus far this season. And it was some good cooking that resulted in a 3-1 victory in front of 37,784 fans, who also watched the Nats win the set.

As it has for the past week, it started on the mound. The Nationals stuck to their plan that has proven to be very successful with Trevor Williams, who completed 5 ⅔ innings of one-run ball with four hits, two walks and two strikeouts on 95 pitches, 56 strikes.

“Going into the fourth game of a series, you get a good feel for what the lineup is going to do," Williams said after the game. "And all the guys the last three days gave tremendous outings. So for them to do what they did, we were able to execute our game plan for the most part. It was a well-fought win for us. Thankful for the guys behind me that they were able to make some plays and we were able to execute some pitches and get us out of some jams.”

The only run scored on him came in the third when Jarred Kelenic hit a triple to left that Eddie Rosario missed while sliding, and then Michael Harris II scored him with a sacrifice fly on the first pitch.

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Martinez balancing lineup with righties, Wood lands on IL at Rochester

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ATLANTA – The Nationals offense has averaged a little more than five runs per game over their last eight outings, breaking out of a slump in which they scored two or fewer runs in seven of 11 games.

In order for the Nationals to keep that up tonight, they’ll have to produce against left-hander Max Fried, who is coming off a complete game against the Cubs in which he allowed two runs (one earned), three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts.

Over his last eight starts against the Nats, Fried is 5-1 with a 2.78 ERA.

So manager Davey Martinez is stacking his lineup with right-handers to face the veteran southpaw, leaving some of his left-handed bats on the bench to possibly use late in the game.

“Yeah, definitely,” Martinez said during his pregame media session. “We could do a line switch here. Do something else late in the game, but tried to get as many righties in against Fried as possible. He's been good. He's coming off of a complete game and pitching well. So I tried to get some righties in there today.”

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Nats face decision with Thomas, corresponding move

Lane Thomas

The Nationals need more offense right now, nobody’s disputing that. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 games, and in seven of those losses they’ve scored two or fewer runs. (Their pitching staff, meanwhile, has given up four or fewer runs in all but two of these last 11 games, so you can’t really place any blame on that unit.)

Given the current state of affairs, it’s going to take more than one hot bat to turn the lineup around. Far too many regulars are slumping, and there isn’t one magic bullet waiting in the wings to save the day. (Not even James Wood, though you’d have to believe he would help way more than he’d hurt the team right now.)

The Nationals should be getting one proven hitter back in their lineup soon, though. Perhaps as soon as tonight. Lane Thomas is just about ready to return from his knee injury, and his return will be fully embraced by his team.

“He’s a big piece to our lineup,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier this week. “He’s been that 2-hole guy, and he and CJ (Abrams) have seemed to work well together. Hopefully we get him back soon, because we definitely miss him. When he’s in the lineup, it stretches our lineup a lot.”

Indeed, Thomas’ absence since he sprained the MCL in his left knee one month ago has been noticeable, even though he wasn’t performing up to his past standards, producing a mere .503 OPS in 22 games. Martinez has scrambled to find someone else to bat second behind Abrams, from Jesse Winker to Nick Senzel to Ildemaro Vargas to Eddie Rosario.

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Meneses' Mother's Day message from mom manifests first homer

Joey Meneses

BOSTON – Mother’s Day across baseball is always special. The players and coaches wear special pink-trimmed hats, jerseys and gear. Teams often put out videos of players wishing their moms and wives a happy Mother’s Day. Even mascots get to celebrate with their moms.

But this Mother’s Day is extra special for Joey Meneses thanks to a message from his mom, Lupita Ramirez, on Friday.

The Nationals are playing their first series at Fenway Park since 2020. Before the opener on Friday, many of the young players took a tour of the historic ballpark, including the iconic Green Monster.

Meneses was one of them. Despite playing in the Red Sox’s minor league system in 2021, the 31-year-old had never played at Fenway before this weekend.

Friday also just happened to be Mother’s Day back in his home country of Mexico. So when he was done with the tour, Meneses sent a video of the Green Monster to his mom, whose reply manifested what would happen Saturday in the second inning.

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Irvin's career day spoiled by late Red Sox rally in loss (updated)

Jake Irvin

BOSTON – The Nationals returned to Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon in search of a series win over the Red Sox. A victory today would lock up their second series win in their last three and third in their last five. Plus, it would put them two games over .500 for the first time since June 30, 2021.

But despite Jake Irvin pitching one of the best starts of his career, a late Red Sox rally buried the Nats in a 4-2 loss.

Robert Garcia entered the eighth inning of a 2-2 game looking to keep the game tied. Pinch-hitter Rob Refsnyder hit a one-out infield single that dribbled up the third base line and never went foul. Garcia got pinch-hitter Romy Gonzalez to hit a ground ball to CJ Abrams, but the young shortstop tried to turn the double play by himself and threw the ball into the Red Sox dugout.

With Gonzalez on second, the Nats intentionally walked the right-handed Tyler O’Neill to bring up the lefty Rafael Devers, who proceeded to end a seven-pitch battle with a two-run double to left to send the 30,995 fans in Boston into a frenzy.

“Tried to throw a slider first pitch and see if I can get him to swing. It wasn't a great one, it moved away," Garcia said after the game. "I fell down 2-0, which was fine. I got right back in the count, evened it out 2-2. I threw a high fastball and he looked very uncomfortable. Surprised, kind of taken aback about, probably, the velo and the way it was thrown. So I figured that we're gonna go there. Because that's my best pitch. Fastball has been my best pitch, we're going right after him in that situation. I didn't execute my location and he beat my best pitch today.”

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Behind Williams' latest effort, Nats finally clear .500 hump (updated)

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Three times in the last week, the Nationals put themselves in a position to get over a hump that for three years now had felt more daunting than the October hurdle they waited years to clear. They kept getting themselves to the .500 mark. They could not get themselves over it.

And then on attempt No. 4 tonight, they finally did it. The Nationals, for the first time since July 1, 2021, are a winning baseball team.

All it took? A 3-0 shutout victory over the Orioles, with Trevor Williams outdueling Corbin Burnes, the lineup manufacturing a few runs and the bullpen continuing its lights-out ways.

Yes, the Nats are 18-17, over the .500 hump at last. And happy not to have to talk about that longstanding negative fact anymore.

"I think it's the mentality that nobody sees us coming," closer Kyle Finnegan said. "We're kind of lurking in the shadows. And we know how good we are. Maybe the league will start to take notice." 

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Bats remain quiet as Nats miss latest chance to cross .500 hurdle (updated)

Mitchell Parker

ARLINGTON, Texas – One of these days, perhaps in the near future, perhaps in the not-so-near future, the Nationals will reach the .500 mark and win their next game so they can proudly declare they are a winning baseball team for the first time in three years.

That day isn’t today, though. Because presented with their third opportunity this season to leap over the proverbial .500 hump, they once again came up short at the plate and lost 6-0 to the Rangers.

The Nationals have made significant strides through the season’s first month-plus. They’re playing a much more competitive brand of baseball than in recent seasons. They’re getting quality pitching performances a majority of the time. But they’re still not hitting with any regularity, and that was never on display more than it was this week at Globe Life Field.

Facing the defending World Series champions, the Nats scored a grand total of two runs, finishing with 12 hits and three walks during the course of 27 innings of play. In spite of all that, they still won one of the three games and had a legitimate chance to win the other two.

Each loss, alas, came with the team sitting right at .500. And so the drought continues: The Nationals still have not owned a winning record since July 1, 2021.

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Meneses heals Nats' hitting frustrations in win over Marlins (updated)

Joey Meneses swing gray

MIAMI – You wouldn’t know the Nationals arrived at loanDepot park riding a three-game losing streak and their biggest offensive slump of the young season. They were upbeat and looking positive, especially with rehabbing Cade Cavalli joining them from West Palm Beach.

But when it came time to play the opener of this four-game, wrap-around series against the Marlins, the Nats had some business to take care of offensively.

Coming into tonight and through the first seven innings, the Nats had really struggled with runners in scoring position, going a combined 4-for-25 with 26 runners left on base and four total runs scored over their last 34 innings.

But the big hit finally came tonight in the eighth, thanks to Joey Meneses, to help deliver a 3-1 victory over the Marlins in front of an announced crowd of 10,201.

"Just try to relax and go up to the at-bat focused," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez, of his game-winning hit. "Trying to look for a good pitch that I know I can take a good swing at.”

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Nats' inability to drive in runs getting exposed

Joey Gallo

It’s easy to look at the Nationals’ offensive woes right now and lament their lack of power. This is a team that has hit only 21 home runs in 24 games, the fifth-lowest total in the majors.

Davey Martinez would love more homers from this team, no doubt. But he also knows this lineup wasn’t built with home runs in mind. What the Nats manager really wants, more than anything else, are any hits that score runs, whether singles, doubles, triples or homers. Or even a non-hit that still scores a run.

“We had a chance today to score a run, just by moving a guy over (and) the next guy hit a fly ball,” Martinez said following Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Dodgers. “Those are the little things that matter. If we do that, it’s a tie game right now. We have to get back to that.”

Indeed, the Nationals, for all their issues, have consistently given themselves a chance to win games this month by putting runners in scoring position. They just haven’t consistently shown an ability to get those runners home.

Consider Thursday’s loss, when they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Or Tuesday’s loss, when they went 3-for-9 but drove in only one run in the process.

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Gore's gutsy start wasted as Nats swept by Dodgers (updated)

Gore pitching white

It wasn’t his best, nor his most overpowering performance. Most of the afternoon, to be honest, felt like an uphill climb for MacKenzie Gore, with long at-bats, high pitch counts and traffic on the bases.

This may have been one of the most important starts of the young left-hander’s career, though. Because on a day when he wasn’t at his best, he still found a way to surrender minimal damage to one of the toughest lineups in baseball. And was given the chance to extend himself beyond the limits the Nationals normally impose on him.

That Gore’s gutsy start still came during a loss – 2-1 to the Dodgers – stings in the moment. Unable to mount any kind of sustained offensive attack the last three days, the Nats wound up getting swept by Los Angeles, putting a real damper on the positive momentum they created in winning three of their previous four series.

"We're playing well," manager Davey Martinez said. "We're playing good defense. It's not easy to hold that team over there to just two runs. We've just got to hit."

The Nationals scored a grand total of four runs in these three games, delivering a grand total of only four hits with runners in scoring position the entire series. And because of that, they wasted a really strong outing today by their young lefty.

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Chronic worrier Meneses can only hope big weekend jumpstarts season

Joey Meneses

Joey Meneses is by nature a worrier. It probably comes from the decade he spent in the minor leagues, bouncing around between organizations, even venturing to Japan at one point to try to keep his career alive.

After finally breaking through in 2022 with two out-of-nowhere months of MVP-level production as a 30-year-old rookie with the Nationals, he still reported to camp the following spring worried he might not make the team. And even after driving in a team-high 89 RBIs in 2023, he still wasn’t sure about his future here after the Nats signed slugger Joey Gallo over the winter and invited top prospects Dylan Crews and James Wood to big league camp.

So imagine the thoughts swirling though Meneses’ mind as he came up to bat in the bottom of the 10th early Saturday evening, his batting average in the .180s, his slugging percentage barely topping .200, having already failed to come through in big spots in the sixth and eighth innings. Was the clock nearing midnight on his fairy tale, with a demotion to Triple-A looming in the near future?

Then watch Meneses’ reaction to his game-winning hit: a first-pitch gap shot to right-center that easily scored pinch-runner Nasim Nunez to beat the Astros. As he approached second base, he flung his helmet aside, spread out his arms and waited for his teammates to mob him. For the first time in a while, the smile on his face was wide.

“Like you said, I’ve been battling and struggling to start the season,” he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But this kind of at-bat and situation kind of relaxes me. And obviously I’m excited about it.”

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Parker dominates Astros for second MLB win (updated)

Mitchell Parker

Given the circumstances, it was fair to wonder if Mitchell Parker’s impressive major league debut last week was a bit flukish. Was that five-inning victory before a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium as good as it was ever going to get for the Nationals’ 2020 fifth-round draft pick?

Given what he just accomplished today in his follow-up start against the Astros, it feels more appropriate to start wondering if this just might actually be the start of something really special.

With seven scoreless innings on only 73 pitches, Parker led the Nats to an easy 6-0 victory, improved to 2-0 as a big leaguer and authored Chapter 2 in what has suddenly become the most compelling – and unexpected – pitching story in recent club history.

"It doesn't seem like anything really fazes him," manager Davey Martinez said. "He goes out there and he challenges hitters. He competes. He's been giving us what we need."

The 24-year-old left-hander was in complete control throughout his home debut. He surrendered three hits (all singles). He allowed only one runner to reach scoring position. He didn’t issue a walk for the second straight outing. And he pounded the strike zone in a manner rarely seen in these parts.

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Thomas' risky double play set up walk-off celebrations

Lane Thomas catch

Saturday was full of celebrations, fanfare and big moments. Both on and off the field.

The 2019 World Series championship team was in attendance for the Nationals’ second game against the Astros. Former players were recognized before and during the game for their heroics five years ago.

Then the current Nationals squad showed the old guys they have that same “finish the fight” attitude as the 2019 team. Jesse Winker hit a two-run single to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning. And then Joey Meneses walked it off in the bottom of the 10th with a first-pitch single to deep center field.

More hugs, high fives and a Gatorade bath ensued.

But one huge play may have gotten lost in all of the celebrations. One defensive play in the top of the 10th that set up Meneses’ big swing.

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With 2019 champs in house, Nats rally to beat Astros (updated)

Meneses walk-off blue

With much of the 2019 World Series championship roster in the house, the 2024 Nationals took a page from their celebrated predecessors and mounted a late comeback that special group surely could appreciate.

Then they pulled off a feat even the greatest team in Nats history never pulled off: They beat the Astros at home.

With a furious rally in the bottom of the ninth capped by Jesse Winker's two-run single, the Nationals stormed back to force extra innings. Then with one swing from Joey Meneses in the bottom of the 10th, they completed a 5-4 victory over Houston to cap a celebratory afternoon on South Capitol Street.

"I think it's cool, especially with those guys in the stands who had that great run in '19," said Lane Thomas, whose outfield assist in the top of the 10th set the stage for Meneses' game-winning hit. "It's cool to do that in front of them."

Trailing 4-2 with three outs to go, and unable to deliver any clutch hits throughout the game, the Nats finally came through when they needed it against Astros closer Ryan Pressly. Nick Senzel reached on catcher’s interference, then CJ Abrams launched a double high off the wall in right-center to put the tying run in scoring position with nobody out.

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Ruiz back on field for light workout, Meneses back on bench

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LOS ANGELES – Though he’s now on the injured list with a case of influenza that has plagued him for a week, Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz was at Dodger Stadium today and went through some light drills on the field before tonight’s game.

“He’s still a little bit under the weather, but he felt good enough to come out and do something,” manager Davey Martinez said. “So that’s a good sign.”

That was a welcome development for Ruiz, who last played eight days ago, the opener of the Nats’ nine-game West Coast trip. He began feeling ill the following day and spent the rest of the week hoping he’d be well enough to play but ultimately unable to do it.

Not wanting to take any more chances with only one healthy catcher, the Nationals placed Ruiz on the 10-day IL prior to Monday’s game and recalled Drew Millas from Triple-A Rochester. Millas will start tonight’s game, ending Riley Adams’ streak of four consecutive games caught.

Teams are only allowed to backdate IL moves three days, so even if he feels well enough to play soon, Ruiz won’t be eligible to return until April 23. It’s possible the Nats will decide to have him play in a few rehab games with a minor league affiliate to give him a chance to get back into game shape before he’s activated.

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Sixth-inning meltdown sends Nats to frustrating loss in Oakland (updated)

martinez blue

OAKLAND, Calif. – On a day when several struggling hitters finally came through in some big spots, and on a day when their No. 5 starter turned in his third consecutive strong outing, and on a day when they opened up what felt like a comfortable lead in the rubber game of a weekend series, the Nationals somehow still found themselves lamenting a loss at the end of the day.

How did they fall to the Athletics, 7-6, and drop this series? With a bottom-of-the-sixth bullpen meltdown the likes of which they won’t soon want to remember.

When the critical inning began, the Nats held a 6-1 lead, with Trevor Williams cruising toward what should have been his third straight win to begin the season. When the inning ended, that lead evaporated, with Williams pulled three batters in and relievers Derek Law and Jordan Weems allowing six runs to score, all with two outs.

Manager Davey Martinez could have left Williams in longer but knew the veteran’s history of late-inning troubles. But after using his top four relievers (Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Robert Garcia and Weems) each of the previous two days, Martinez’s options weren’t as appealing as they might otherwise have been.

Put that all together and you get a particularly frustrating loss for a team that was seeking its second straight series win to cap off a successful week in the Bay Area.

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Gallo to stay at first base as Rosario gets look in center field

Joey Gallo 2024 picture day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The notion that the Nationals signed Joey Gallo to be their primary left fielder, taking advantage not only of his power potential but also his Gold Glove arm? That doesn’t appear to be part of the plan anymore.

The combination of Gallo’s sore quad this spring and the recent signings of Eddie Rosario and Jesse Winker have convinced manager Davey Martinez to use Gallo primarily at first base for now.

“I think right now the idea is to keep Gallo at first base, and DH him at times, too,” Martinez said. “Especially now that he had this little tweak of his quad. We’ll try to keep him out of the outfield for now. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but I want him to be healthy before we even put him in the outfield.”

Gallo played his eighth game of the spring Thursday night, his fifth at first base. He served as designated hitter the other three times. He opened camp splitting workout time between the outfielders and infielders, but in recent weeks has worked exclusively at first base, this after missing several days with the quad injury.

Signed in January for $5 million to bring some much-needed power to a Nationals lineup that ranked last in the National League in homers last season, Gallo also was touted for his defensive ability in the outfield. He won the Gold Glove Award in both 2020 and 2021 and has spoken many times about the pride he takes in being a good defensive player.

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