Nats start second half with win over Reds (updated)

Patrick Corbin

The Nationals seemed refreshed coming back from the All-Star break. Although they had just received the news that Josiah Gray will need elbow surgery to end his season, the team was in high spirits in the clubhouse before the second-half opener against the Reds, especially with first-round pick Seaver King and third-rounder Kevin Bazzell officially signing their contracts and spending time with the team.

After ending the first half by losing six of their last eight games, the Nats were looking to start the second half on the right foot. They were able to do so by putting their offensive struggles behind them and exploding for an 8-5 win over the Reds in front of a sellout crowd of 38,402, most of whom were sticking around for the Carly Rae Jepsen postgame concert.

The first challenge for the bats out of the break was Frankie Montas, who spun six shutout innings against them for a win on Opening Day. But this was a very different Nats lineup than the one the veteran right-hander faced in Cincinnati back in March.

Joey Meneses, Joey Gallo and Eddie Rosario were not on the lineup card. James Wood, Juan Yepez and Trey Lipscomb were. And the new faces certainly made a difference.

Wood got things going after Jesse Winker walked and Yepez singled ahead of him in the fourth. The rookie pulled an inside cutter from Montas to drive in two runs with a single to right and give the Nats a 2-1 lead. The second run scored without a play at the plate because Rece Hinds' throw home hit the 6-foot-7 outfielder in the back at first base, bringing some laughs from Wood and the Nats dugout.

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Irvin's breakthrough first half ends on sour note (updated)

irvin pitching gray

MILWAUKEE – In a first half packed with encouraging, unexpected performances from the Nationals’ young pitchers, Jake Irvin stood at the top of the pack.

More than anyone else on the staff, the 27-year-old took the kind of forward strides that forced any skeptics out there to reconsider how he might just fit into the long-term plan, looking far more like a frontline starter than a back-end innings-eater.

Two bad starts to close out the half – capped by today’s slog during a 9-3 loss to the Brewers – don’t diminish everything Irvin did the previous three months. But they will leave a bit of a sour taste in the right-hander’s mouth as he heads home for the All-Star break.

"Look at the big picture, and see that it was a good first half," he said. "But just let these last two starts be a reminder that there's still work to be done. And we're going to get better and move forward with this."

One of the National League’s most consistently effective starters so far this season, worthy of an All-Star selection even though he didn’t get one, Irvin was roughed up for seven runs (six earned) in only four innings this afternoon. That came on the heels of a six-run outing last week against the Mets, these two duds turning Irvin’s 2.80 ERA into a 3.49 ERA in short order.

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Nats close out long, hot homestand with shutout loss (updated)

Mitchell Parker

They would never say it publicly, but the Nationals sure could’ve used a day off at the end of a long, disgustingly hot homestand. Instead, the schedule-makers had them play back-to-back, four-game series, including this wraparound set against the Cardinals that started Friday evening and ended early this evening with a result that felt a bit too predictable.

Even though their gassed pitching staff got a much-needed boost in the form of seven strong innings by Mitchell Parker, the rest of the Nats slogged their way through an awfully quiet 6-0 loss to St. Louis that featured very little hitting and some less-than-crisp defense.

The lineup was shut down by veteran Miles Mikolas, who entered with a 5.19 ERA and proceeded to throw 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Cardinals bullpen. The defense got a couple of highlight-reel plays in left field by James Wood but was otherwise sloppy, committing two official errors and a couple more unofficial ones.

"Not good," manager Davey Martinez said. "You saw the game. It's not good. We've got to clean that up. We can't beat ourselves, and today we beat ourselves a little bit."

And so this homestand that saw the organization summon several young players from Triple-A and cut ties with several struggling veterans finally came to an end, not in rousing fashion but with a disappointing 3-5 record. And exhausted as they may be, the Nationals don’t get to rest yet. They now head to New York and Milwaukee, closing out the 17-day stretch of baseball required of them before they get to enjoy the All-Star break next week.

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Yepez takes over at first base after Meneses demotion

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The Nationals could have ridden things out with Joey Meneses a bit longer, giving him a chance to snap out of his hitting funk until Joey Gallo is ready to return from the injured list. But with Gallo still weeks away, and with Juan Yepez on a hot streak at Triple-A Rochester, they decided now was the time to make a switch at first base.

Meneses was informed he was being optioned to Triple-A following Thursday’s win over the Mets, and this afternoon the Nats officially purchased Yepez’s contract from Rochester, giving the 26-year-old a chance to play at the big league level.

“It was all really about Joey, trying to get Joey locked in,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s got options. He’ll go down and try to work on his swing and just get him back. It’s not like we’ve seen the end of Joey.

“The other guy’s doing really well. Yepez has been hitting the ball really well, playing a good first base. So we wanted to give him the opportunity to come up here and see what he can do.”

Nearly two years removed from his breakthrough two-month debut at 30, Meneses had seen his numbers steadily decline, from a .930 OPS in 2022 to a .722 OPS last season to a .597 mark this season. He was slugging a mere .299 since June 1.

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Game 88 lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals

wood debut

It’s hot today. Really, really hot. And humid. Really, really humid. The temperature in Washington as I type this is 97 degrees, the heat index 109. And it’s barely going to cool down before first pitch tonight against the Cardinals. If you’re coming, please do what you can to hydrate and stay out of the sun. If you’re not coming, enjoy the game on TV from the comforts of home.

After a wild series against the Mets that included back-to-back 10-inning losses and then back-to-back dramatic wins, the Nationals now host the Cardinals for four games in a wraparound series that extends through Monday. They would love to keep the good vibes going, but they’re going to need to continue to get excellent pitching and start scoring some more runs, especially early in games.

Patrick Corbin is tonight’s starter, and you know the drill at this point. With Josiah Gray and Cade Cavalli remaining on the injured list for the foreseeable future, Corbin’s spot in the rotation appears to be secure once again. It’s up to him to make the most of it and at least give his team a chance. He was good in three straight starts against the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Padres. Then he struggled against the Rays. A bounceback start tonight would be very nice.

The Nats lineup faces a tough challenge in veteran Sonny Gray, 9-5 with a 2.98 ERA, 0.992 WHIP and 109 strikeouts in only 87 2/3 innings. The good news, if there is any: James Wood gets to face a righty starter for only the second time in five big league games. The Nationals also have a new first baseman: Juan Yepez, who was officially promoted from Triple-A Rochester this afternoon to replace the demoted Joey Meneses, with Josiah Gray transferred to the 60-day injured list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Where:
Nationals Park

Gametime: 6:45 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 88.7 FM (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Hot and humid, 95 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

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What are Nationals' options if Gallo goes on IL?

Joey Gallo

DETROIT – The Nationals won’t know for sure until later today when they get test results on Joey Gallo’s left hamstring, but the image from the top of the seventh Tuesday night kind of said it all.

Running down the line on a grounder to second, Gallo grabbed his upper left leg as he approached first base. He walked gingerly back to the dugout afterward. And he was subsequently replaced in the field by Joey Meneses for the bottom of the inning.

Barring an unexpected quick healing process, Gallo probably isn’t going to be able to play tonight. And unless they can be sure he’ll be ready to return within the next 24-48 hours, the Nats probably are going to have to place him on the 10-day injured list.

Which is why they were already contemplating late Tuesday night their options for calling a player up from Triple-A Rochester to take his spot on the roster.

“We’re probably going to get somebody on the move,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I don’t know yet. We’ll just see what happens. But we’ll definitely have someone on the move.”

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Relievers get extra work, Yepez gets three more hits, Wood gets a day off

James Wood dugout spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Davey Martinez wanted to see how several relievers in the mix for jobs handled major league hitters, the kind of proven players they don’t normally get to face late in spring training games when backups and minor leaguers take over. So today’s game against the Cardinals became a bullpen game, with a string of relievers trotting in throughout the afternoon to face the likes of Dylan Carlson, Matt Carpenter, Willson Contreras and Brandon Crawford.

The takeaway from all that? Some were up to the challenge, others were not. And almost everybody needed to throw a lot of pitches before returning to the dugout.

The Nationals’ 8-5 exhibition loss saw six pitchers in the mix for Opening Day bullpen jobs take the mound. Only two of them (Derek Law, Robert Gsellman) emerged with a zero on the scoreboard, and each of them returned to toss a second scoreless inning. Four others (Luis Perdomo, Dylan Floro, Tanner Rainey, Robert Garcia) labored, each surrendering at least one run, each needing at least 22 pitches to complete his inning of work.

“Some of these guys, when they get to face big league hitters, the at-bats get extended,” Martinez said. “There’s more pitches; they’re not the five-, six-, seven-pitch innings. That’s kind of what I wanted to see. I wanted to see them get deeper in counts and see how they do. And I saw that today. Some guys were good and battled, and it was nice to see them go through that.”

From today’s group, Rainey and Floro are most assured of making the club, each on guaranteed contracts for $1.5 million and $2.25 million, respectively. Rainey, making his sixth appearance of the spring, issued three walks and uncorked a wild pitch during a rough top of the fifth. Floro, making his delayed spring debut after dealing with a tight shoulder earlier in camp, allowed two singles while inducing two ground ball outs.

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Nats select speedy Nuñez in Rule 5 Draft, sign Yepez to minors deal

Nasim-Nunez-Marlins-minors

NASHVILLE – After making it through the entire 2023 season with a Rule 5-drafted pitcher on their major league roster, the Nationals will attempt to do the same with a position player in 2024.

The Nats selected Marlins shortstop Nasim Nuñez with the fifth-overall pick in this afternoon’s Rule 5 Draft, hoping the speedy, defensively gifted, 23-year-old can contribute enough next season to stick and perhaps someday develop into a permanent big leaguer.

Nuñez, who was set to be rated Miami’s No. 6 prospect by Baseball America, is an “elite” defensive shortstop and baserunner who draws walks at a high rate but has yet to hit consistently in the minors. The Nationals understand he’s not ready to play regularly in the majors, but they believe he provides enough skills in specific areas to give him a shot to stay on the roster the entire 2024 season.

“It’s going to be a challenge, because obviously he’s not going to get a lot of at-bats at the big-league level,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “But I think with the coaching staff we have right now, and with the reps he will get other than gametime reps, I think we can really iron out some mechanical issues. … And I think he gives (manager Davey Martinez) an option off the bench: a defensive replacement, elite defensive skills and a baserunner. A guy that can help us win games at the big-league level.”

A second-round pick of the Marlins in 2019 out of Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga., Nuñez progressed his way up the minor-league ladder and the organizational prospects list thanks to his legs, his glove and his eyes. He has stolen 183 bases in 351 professional games, including 52 this season at Double-A Pensacola. He is a strong-armed shortstop who was rated Miami’s best defensive infielder by Baseball America. He also has shown an unusual patience at the plate for a player of his age, ranking fourth among all Double-A players this year with 87 walks.

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