Cruz can’t come up clutch, more poor play in Nats’ third straight loss

GettyImages-1397804475

MIAMI – Nelson Cruz has been in big spots throughout his 18-year career. And he’s been in much bigger games than the Nationals’ 38th game of the season against a division opponent.

But after missing Monday’s series opener with an illness, Cruz found himself back in the lineup Tuesday night, and wouldn’t you know it, the game put him in one of the biggest spots of the night.

What happened didn’t ultimately lead to the Nationals’ 5-1 loss in front of 8,097 at loanDepot Park, which also included a close to seven-minute delay due to a false fire alarm in the fifth inning. But it certainly was their biggest opportunity to get ahead of the Marlins late and perhaps win their first game against their National League East rival.

With the Nats down 1-0 and with one out in the sixth, Victor Robles singled to center field to get a speedy runner on base. But he was promptly picked off by Marlins lefty reliever Steven Okert, this coming after Robles stole his first base in his first attempt of the season last night.

But Cesár Hernández followed with an infield single, and Juan Soto and Josh Bell reached on back-to-back walks against the erratic Okert.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Cruz and Escobar return to lineup, Adon faces Marlins

Nelson Cruz Gray

MIAMI – After a rough start to the week in the form of an 8-2 loss to the Marlins on Monday, the Nationals were greeted to some good news before the second game of this three-game set at loanDepot Park.

Nelson Cruz returns to the starting lineup after being a pregame scratch with an illness before last night’s game. He left the Nationals clubhouse yesterday while wearing a mask – sent away from the rest of the team to keep anyone else from getting sick – but returned this afternoon without a face covering.

“He was good. He just said he wasn't feeling well yesterday, so precautionary,” said manager Davey Martinez during his pregame session with the media. “You know, I don't want anybody else getting sick. He woke up today, said he felt fine. I watched him do his warmups and he hit in the cage and looked good. So he's back in there.”

Cruz is back in his usual designated hitter role and batting cleanup behind Cesár Hernández, Juan Soto and Josh Bell. Yadiel Hernandez, who replaced Cruz as the DH last night while Lane Thomas took over in left field, is back in left and hitting fifth.

The 41-year-old gets another chance to continue his much-improved May after a rough start to the season in April: He’s slashing .275/.333/.450 with a .783 OPS, two homers and nine RBIs over his first 11 games this month. Cruz can also try to take advantage of the controlled elements inside the roofed loanDepot Park, a stadium where he’s only made two plate appearances during his career spent mostly in the American League.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 38 lineups: Nats at Marlins

GettyImages-1395946887

MIAMI – Would you believe it if I told you the Nationals are looking for their first win of the season against the Marlins tonight?

Well, it’s true. The Marlins have won all four matchups so far in 2022, most recently last night behind a dominant start by Sandy Alcantara. These are not the same Marlins, against whom the Nationals used to rack up wins.

The Nats have at least one win against every opponent they’ve faced this year except the Fish.

Joan Adon will try to get deeper into tonight’s game than Aaron Sanchez’s 3 ⅔ innings of work last night. However, that’s also how far Adon went in his last start when he gave up three runs and five walks to the Mets. The rookie is 1-6 with a 7.03 ERA on the season and hasn’t faced the Fish yet in his young career.

Meanwhile, the Nats offense hopes to have more success against Cody Poteet than they did against Alcantara. The 27-year-old right-hander makes his first start of the season after posting an impressive 0.55 ERA and 0.980 WHIP in 16 ⅓ innings over eight relief appearances.

Poteet hasn’t faced the Nats this year and gave up five runs in three innings in his only start against them last year.

Nelson Cruz and Alcides Escobar will both return to the lineup tonight. 

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at MIAMI MARLINS
Where: loanDepot Park
Gametime: 6:40 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell
DH Nelson Cruz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
C Keibert Ruiz
3B Maikel Franco
SS Alcides Escobar
CF Victor Robles

RHP Joan Adon

MARLINS
2B Jazz Chisholm Jr.
1B Jesús Aguilar
DH Garrett Cooper
RF Avasaíl García
LF Brian Anderson
CF Bryan De La Cruz
C Jacob Stallings
SS Miguel Rojas
3B Erik González

RHP Cody Poteet

  0 Comments
0 Comments

Soto and Martinez staying positive after more frustration at the plate

Juan Soto gray

MIAMI – We hear it all the time when teams go through offensive slumps. It’s the major leagues. The guy on the mound gets paid to get batters out, too.

Sometimes it’s just the case that a team runs into some tough pitching matchups.

That has been the case for the Nationals, who, aside from an 8-3 win over the Mets and a 13-6 victory over the Astros, have struggled to score in bunches over the past week.

Over their last five losses, the Nats have been outscored 30-6 and have failed to score more than two runs in a game.

The latest such games came facing future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander on Sunday and budding star Sandy Alcantara on Monday. Sometimes the cards you’re dealt are really good pitchers.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Alcantara dominates Nats while Sanchez struggles early in loss (updated)

hickey visits sanchez @MIA gray

MIAMI – It’s been all or nothing at all lately for the Nationals. They won by five-run and seven-run margins in their two victories over the last week. They then failed to score more than two runs in any of their four losses.

On Sunday, they ran into a red-hot Justin Verlander, who held them scoreless over five innings in an eventual 8-0 loss. On Monday night, it was the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara who kept the Nationals bats quiet while handing down an 8-2 loss in front of 6,601 at loanDepot Park.

So now that makes no more than two runs scored in each of their last five losses.

The evening actually started off well for the visiting side. César Hernández greeted Alcantara with a leadoff single in the top of the first and would eventually come all the way around to score on an RBI single from Yadiel Hernandez (filling the designated hitter role after Nelson Cruz was scratched from the lineup with an illness) for a quick 1-0 lead.

That would be all the Nats could muster off Alcantara.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Cruz scratched from lineup with illness, plus other notes

Nelson Cruz Gray

MIAMI – The Nationals will be without designated hitter Nelson Cruz for Monday’s series opener against the Marlins.

Originally slated to bat fourth in his usual DH role, Cruz was scratched just under two hours before the scheduled first pitch to start this three-game set in Miami. Yadiel Hernandez will now bat cleanup as the designated hitter, with Lane Thomas sliding into left field and batting seventh.

Cruz was seen earlier today in the Nationals clubhouse before the team took the field for pregame warmups. He was wearing a mask as he gathered his things and left the clubhouse shortly before the media spoke to manager Davey Martinez.

“Yeah, we might have a lineup change,” Martinez said when asked about Cruz’s sudden departure. “He didn't feel too good. I didn't want him around the other boys. So I'm going to talk to our trainers after this and we'll figure out what's going on.”

Whether Cruz was wearing a mask for precautionary reasons or it was deemed that he had to remains unclear. No other players, coaches or staff members were seen wearing masks.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 37 lineups: Nats at Marlins (updated)

Lane Thomas swing white

MIAMI – ¡Bienvenidos a Miami! After finishing up a six-game homestand by going 2-4 against the Mets and Astros, the Nationals now embark on a six-game road trip starting with tonight’s series opener against the Marlins.

Interestingly enough, the Nats have fared much better away from their home ballpark so far in 2022. They’re 7-9 (.438) in their 16 road games and have outscored their opponents 94-86. They are 5-15 (.250) and have been outscored 100-56 in 20 home games.

Aaron Sanchez will look to build off one of his strongest outings as a National, when he held the Mets to three runs on six hits with no walks over 5 1/3 innings Wednesday. For the season, Sanchez is 2-2 with a 7.58 ERA and 1.421 WHIP over four starts.

Sanchez made two starts against the Marlins last year as a member of the Giants, holding the Fish to just one run over a combined 9 2/3 innings.

Sandy Alcantara will take the bump for Don Mattingly’s club while looking to continue his strong start to the season. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.74 ERA that ranks ninth in the National League. He held the Nats to just one run over six innings in an April 26 win at Nationals Park.

This is my first solo road trip covering the Nats, so I’m excited to bring you coverage this week from South Beach. Mark Zuckerman will rejoin the team in Milwaukee on Friday.

Update: Nelson Cruz was scratched from tonight's lineup. Manager Davey Martinez said the slugger wasn't feeling well. Yadiel Hernandez is now the designated hitter and batting fourth, and Lane Thomas is now in left field and batting seventh.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at MIAMI MARLINS
Where: loanDepot Park
Gametime: 6:40 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell
DH Nelson Cruz Yadiel Hernandez
C Keibert Ruiz
3B Maikel Franco
LF Lane Thomas
SS Dee Strange-Gordon
CF Victor Robles

RHP Aaron Sanchez

MARLINS
2B Jazz Chisholm
DH Jesús Aguilar
LF Jorge Soler
1B Garrett Cooper
RF Avasaíl García
3B Brian Anderson
CF Bryan De La Cruz
SS Erik González
C Jacob Stallings

RHP Sandy Alcantara

  0 Comments
0 Comments

Franco quietly driving in as many runs as any Nats hitter

GettyImages-1397288880

Quick quiz: Who leads the Nationals in RBIs? It’s Josh Bell, right?

Yes, but it’s not only Bell. Also checking in with 21 RBIs through the season’s first 36 games is an unexpected contributor: Maikel Franco.

While Bell’s offensive exploits have been front and center since opening day, Franco’s contributions have been delivered in a bit more quiet fashion. But sure enough, the veteran third baseman’s two-run homer during Saturday night’s blowout win over the Astros brought him up to Bell’s RBI total and the team lead.

Some of this is a reflection of Juan Soto’s struggles to drive in runs – he has only 11, despite eight homers and an .890 OPS – but it’s also a credit to Franco, who surprisingly finds himself on pace for 95 RBIs at the moment, a total that would shatter his previous career-high of 88.

 “He’s been great,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s worked really hard. He and (assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler) have built a really good relationship. They work hard in the batting cages. He’s got a really good routine going on right now.”

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Nats can't touch Verlander, late homers doom Corbin

Patrick Corbin throwing white

It had all the trimmings of a classic pitchers’ duel, Justin Verlander and Patrick Corbin matching zeros in the run column while Verlander maintained a zero in the hits column as well.

For Verlander, though, this was par for the course. He just carried a no-hit bid into the eighth inning in his previous start.

For Corbin, this was uncharted territory for 2022. And 2020 and 2021, for that matter. The pressure rested squarely upon the left-hander’s shoulder to keep up with his more accomplished counterpart. And though he did best Verlander in the length of his start, Corbin came nowhere close to beating him in the only department that actually counts.

Three late homers by the Astros spoiled Corbin’s afternoon. And with the Nationals unable to push a run across in five innings against Verlander or the next four innings against Houston relievers, the end result was an 8-0 loss that didn’t really convey the type of ballgame this actually was.

"Look who we faced today," manager Davey Martinez said. "We've been swinging the bat well. Regardless of whether or not we score runs, we've been getting five, six, seven, eight hits a game. Today, that guy was good."

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Opportunities for Rainey to pitch remain sparse

Tanner Rainey throw white

Tanner Rainey is the Nationals’ best reliever. Or, at least, they’re handling him like he’s their best reliever, using him as their closer when the opportunity presents itself.

Trouble is, there just haven’t been many of those opportunities to date.

The Nats have held a lead of three or fewer runs in the ninth inning only four times through the season’s first 35 games. And it’s happened, remarkably, only once in their last 22 games. (The team’s last six wins all have come by at least four runs, often many more.)

Which has left Rainey frequently doing nothing but watching games from the bullpen without ever taking the mound himself. He has appeared only 10 times overall this season, only four times so far this month.

So when the latter innings of Saturday night’s 13-6 rout of the Astros came around, manager Davey Martinez felt he had no choice but to go ahead and pitch Rainey, no matter the score. It was the 29-year-old’s first outing since his lone blown save Sunday in Anaheim, the third time already this season he was pitching on five days’ rest.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 36 lineups: Nats vs. Astros

Patrick Corbin throw white wide

The Nationals were held to one run during Friday night’s loss to the Astros. They exploded for 13 runs during Saturday night’s win over the Astros. So what should we expect from them during today’s series finale against the Astros?

As much as you’d love to see another offensive explosion, you’ve got to think the odds are stacked against them, with Justin Verlander taking the mound for Houston. The 39-year-old right-hander has been phenomenal so far this season, with a 4-1 record and league-leading 1.55 ERA and 0.639 WHIP. And he’s doing this in his return from Tommy John surgery. Like his former rotation mate in Detroit, Max Scherzer, Verlander is a freak of nature.

There are several Nationals with considerable experience against Verlander. Nelson Cruz is 15-for-57 with four doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs. Alcides Escobar is 18-for-88 with four doubles and four RBIs. And, of course, Juan Soto is 2-for-6 with a double and a titanic home run off Verlander during the 2019 World Series.

Runs are probably going to be at a premium today, though, so the pressure’s on Patrick Corbin to deliver another quality start. The left-hander seems to have turned his entire season around over his last three starts, producing a 2.37 ERA and 1.158 WHIP. The challenge today against the Astros lineup will be tougher, but success in this one might be the most legitimate evidence to date that Corbin actually has turned a corner.

HOUSTON ASTROS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Chance of rain late, 79 degrees, wind 5 mph out to left field

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Bats spring to life during lopsided win over Astros (updated)

Fedde gray

No major league club has played better, or particularly pitched better, this month than the Astros. The Houston staff that walked into Nationals Park tonight had surrendered a grand total of 12 runs over the last 11 games. Not surprisingly, all 11 resulted in victory for Dusty Baker’s squad.

So consider what the Nationals just did on this Saturday evening, and try to explain it. Scoring a run in the first and then multiple runs in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings, they torched the Astros’ previously ironclad pitching staff during a 13-6 win that kind of defied logic.

The same Nats lineup that has struggled so mightily to produce extra-base hits got five of them in this game, including Yadiel Hernandez’s three-run homer, Nelson Cruz’s three-run double and Maikel Franco’s two-run homer.

All told, the Nationals crossed the plate more times tonight than they did their previous four games combined, putting an end the Astros’ winning streak with emphasis and giving a crowd of 22,949 plenty of reason to cheer, something that has been in woefully short supply this season.

"Just good at-bats," Cruz said. "We were patient. We hit strikes. We were facing pretty good pitchers, from their starters to their relievers. To be able to score that many runs, it shows how good of a lineup we have."

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Strasburg, Ross to begin five-day pitching schedule

Stephen Strasburg throwing blue home

Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are ready to shift into a regular, five-day pitching routine that could prepare them to join the Nationals’ rotation sometime next month after completing their latest simulated games with no issues.

Strasburg, who is recovering from last summer’s thoracic outlet surgery, and Ross, who is recovering from March’s surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow, each tossed two innings during a simulated game Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla. Strasburg threw 27 pitches, reaching 92 mph with his fastball, according to manager Davey Martinez. Ross threw 33 pitches, topping out at 95 mph.

“They’re feeling really good,” Martinez said. “We hope that continues.”

This session came four days after both right-handers pitched their first simulated games at the club’s spring training complex. They’ll now shift to a standard, five-game schedule between outings, further evidence they are transitioning from rehab mode to preparation mode.

Both Strasburg and Ross still need time to build their arms back up. They’re essentially now treating this final stage of rehab as if they were in spring training, with no significant restrictions due to their prior injuries.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 35 lineups: Nats vs. Astros

GettyImages-1391498719

Very little went right for the Nationals on Friday night. They trailed 5-0 in the top of the first, and though Josiah Gray did right the ship after that, the lineup did nothing of consequence to try to mount a comeback. They’ll hope for a much better outcome tonight against the Astros, really hoping they can start stringing together some hits. (Or, even better, some extra-base hits.)

The challenge standing in their way: A Houston pitching staff that has allowed a grand total of 12 runs during the current 11-game winning streak. That’s almost impossible to believe, but it’s true. Cristian Javier, tonight’s starter, has been part of this run himself, and will take the mound with a 2-0 record and 0.83 ERA, though four of his six appearances to date have come out of the bullpen and he’s yet to top 87 pitches in either of his starts.

Davey Martinez has two changes from Friday night’s lineup. Yadiel Hernandez, who sat against Astros left-hander Framber Valdez, is back in there batting fifth and playing left field. And Dee Strange-Gordon gets the start at shortstop instead of Alcides Escobar, who actually had a strong night in the field but had another 0-fer at the plate.

Erick Fedde gets the ball for the Nationals. He managed to shut out the Angels’ potent lineup for five innings in his last start, but he found himself having to pitch out of trouble that entire outing. He’ll need to be more efficient tonight if he wants to go deeper in the game and take some load off the bullpen’s shoulders.

HOUSTON ASTROS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Rain ending, 70 degrees, wind 4 mph right field to left field

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Reduction in strikeouts may be Bell's biggest improvement

GettyImages-1395946738

There are any number of ways to articulate how well Josh Bell has hit for the Nationals so far this season. The .342 batting average is an obvious one, as is the .434 on-base percentage. Each ranks third among all qualifying National League hitters.

There’s another, less obvious way to underscore Bell’s success to date: His lack of strikeouts.

Consider that the 29-year-old first baseman has struck out only 15 times in 138 plate appearances so far this season. Only four qualifying NL hitters have struck out fewer times, and they’re all contact-happy middle infielders: Jose Iglesias, Miguel Rojas, Nico Hoerner and Jeff McNeil.

Bell? He’s one of the most intimidating physical presences in the batter’s box in the majors, a 261-pound slugger who seems to want to hit the ball as hard as he can every time he swings.

Looks, however, can be deceiving.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Astros blast Gray early, Nats never recover (updated)

gray pitch home blue

The crowd at Nationals Park had just had an opportunity to welcome Dusty Baker back to town, standing and applauding the former Nats manager in his first appearance here since October 2017. Then, within seconds, the applause morphed into boos as the visitors’ starting lineup was announced, the first such appearance here for the Astros since October 2019.

Thus was the stage set for the start of an emotional weekend, one that plenty of folks had eagerly anticipated for some time.

And then Jose Altuve blasted Josiah Gray’s very first pitch of the game off the top of the center field fence for a leadoff home run, and the mood instantly changed.

And then Michael Brantley followed with a double off the wall, and Alex Bregman followed that with a double down the line, and Yordan Alvarez followed that with an RBI single and then – with a quick break for an actual out to be recorded – Yuli Gurriel crushed Gray’s 14th pitch of the night deep to left and the Astros already led by five runs and all life had been sucked out of the crowd.

It would never really return by the end of the night, Houston cruising to a 6-1 victory that for all purposes was resolved before the Nationals even came up to bat in the bottom of the first.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Five years later, Baker happy to return to Nationals Park

zimmerman baker laugh warmups

The first thing Dusty Baker noticed was the neighborhood. Navy Yard now looks a whole lot different from the last time he came here, in October 2017.

“Man, I sure wish I was invested in a couple buildings. Or in some big cranes,” he said with a laugh. “I’m telling you, this has really, really picked up. I stopped by on the way here today to see a friend, and I’d been over there many times, and I couldn’t find it. They’ve certainly built this area up.”

Once that initial shock of urban development wore off and he walked through the bowels of Nationals Park, past the home clubhouse he resided in for two years, and made his way to the visitors’ clubhouse he hadn’t set foot in since 2013 when he managed the Reds, the memories started coming back.

Good memories, even if it didn’t end the way he wanted it to.

“I had great memories here,” he said. “The people were great. I enjoyed the town. Like I’ve said many times, I enjoyed the diversity, the educational level here. For a two-year period, this is probably as good of a period as I’ve had anywhere.”

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 34 lineups: Nats vs. Astros

gray-brings-it-white

The Nationals are facing the Astros this weekend, if you haven’t heard, and that means it’s going to be a weekend filled with nostalgia. This is, of course, the first matchup between the two clubs since the 2019 World Series (non-spring training matchup, that is). So you’re going to see a lot of highlights from that glorious 10-day stretch in late-October 2019 all weekend, for better or worse.

It’s also Dusty Baker’s return to D.C. for the first time since he was let go by the Nationals following the 2017 season. At the time, it was reasonable to think Baker would never get another chance to manage in the big leagues. As it turned out, he did get another chance, and not only that but a chance to manage a World Series contender. We’ll see what kind of reception he gets this weekend from Nats fans, but I would imagine it will be a resoundingly positive one.

As for tonight’s series opener, Josiah Gray gets the ball against a tough Houston lineup. It’s the latest big test for the young right-hander, who in the big picture has impressed this season. He shut out the Giants over six innings two starts ago, then held the Angels to three runs over 5 1/3 innings last time out in a start that looked better than that final line would indicate.

The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, has to try to solve an Astros pitching staff that has been lights out. Those arms have allowed a total of 11 runs during the 10-game winning streak they carry into this series. Yes, only 11 runs allowed in 10 games. Left-hander Framber Valdez, who starts tonight, has been somewhat less effective than his rotation mates, allowing five total runs over his last two starts. Still pretty good, though.

HOUSTON ASTROS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 980 AM, MLB.com
Weather: Chance of rain, 71 degrees, wind 7 mph in from right field

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Nats searching for home cooking recipe while reuniting with Astros

GettyImages-1396772494

Home field advantage is sometimes an overused cliché in sports. How much a home crowd affects the actual outcome of a game is hard to quantify.

But baseball can be separated from other major sports in that all ballparks have different dimensions. And with 81 games over the course of a regular season, major league ballplayers can get used to the way their home field plays.

The way the outfield fence curves. The way the foul line walls angle. The way the wind blows in and the sun shines.

Even though it’s not always the case, you would figure most teams would have more success at home than on the road.

Not these 2022 Nationals, now a little over a month into their season.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

More sloppy play leads to another home loss for Nats (updated)

GettyImages-1396773308

Thursday’s afternoon series finale against the Mets gave the Nationals a chance to win their first home series of the 2022 season. Coming into the game, they were 0-3-1 in series taking place at Nationals Park.

Although this game started much like Wednesday’s affair, with the Mets jumping out to an early lead in the first inning, this time the Nats could not pull off a comeback.

The inability to get deep into the game by the starting pitcher and horrendous baserunning by the offense resulted in a 4-1 loss to the Mets in front of 21,213 fans still waiting to witness a series win.

This game was won and lost, first and foremost, on the mound. Nationals starter Joan Adon did not throw strikes. Mets starter Taijuan Walker did.

“​​I felt a little weird," Adon said after the game, via team interpreter Octavio Martinez. "But I mean, that's part of how things go sometimes.”

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments