Alcantara dominates Nats one last time in 2022 (updated)

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MIAMI – If they had the ability to vote for this year’s National League Cy Young Award winner – and they most certainly do not – the Nationals would unanimously select Sandy Alcantara. With all due respect to anybody else they’ve faced this year, how could they go with anyone other than the Marlins ace, who has dominated everyone around the league but has saved some of this best performances for them.

And you can add tonight’s gem to the list. With power and efficiency, Alcantara toppled the Nationals, 4-1, and nearly tossed his second complete game against them this week.

The lanky right-hander struck out 11 and saw his pitch count climb a bit (99) compared to his 103-pitch complete game Sunday at Nationals Park. That prompted manager Don Mattingly to lift him after he struck out the side in the eighth and turn to closer Dylan Floro to finish it off.

That didn’t diminish Alcantara’s performance tonight, in which he allowed only five batters to reach base, with Alex Call reaching three times on his own and everybody else combining to reach twice. Call somehow managed to reach base in six of his seven plate appearances against Alcantara this week, cracking a code nobody else in the Nats lineup could figure out.

There’s no shame, of course, in getting beat by Alcantara, now 14-8 with a 2.32 ERA for the season. But he’s been remarkably dominant against the Nationals, who in five starts went 4-0 with an 0.90 ERA, averaging eight innings per outing.

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Corbin to miss next start, final outing still uncertain

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MIAMI – Patrick Corbin won’t make his next scheduled start while he waits for his back to heal, and the Nationals haven’t decided yet if he’ll return to make one final start before the season ends.

Corbin, who had to depart Tuesday night’s start in Atlanta in the first inning after tweaking his back, has been able to play catch on flat ground since then. But he has not yet thrown off a mound, and until he’s able to do that the club won’t have him start a game.

“At this point, because he’s not going to be able to throw a bullpen, we might skip him,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We’re undecided who’s going to pitch in his spot, but when we get back home we’ll have (Cory) Abbott, (Paolo) Espino and TBD.”

The Nationals have five other healthy starters, so they can proceed without Corbin if they need. Josiah Gray could pitch on normal rest Wednesday against the Braves, though Martinez admitted after Friday night’s start the right-hander could still be shut down due to his career-high workload this season.

The real issue comes Saturday, when the Nats are scheduled to face the Phillies in a day-night doubleheader. MacKenzie Gore, who is slated to make his fourth rehab start for Triple-A Rochester on Monday, could come off the injured list to start one of those games. If not, the team would need to find someone else (or go with Corbin).

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Game 151 lineups: Nats at Marlins

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MIAMI – It was only six days ago the Nationals faced Sandy Alcantara. The Marlins ace went the distance that afternoon at Nationals Park, tossing a complete game on only 103 pitches. The good news: The Nats managed seven hits off the right-hander. The bad news: They scored only one run. And because they were so aggressive, often putting the first or second pitch of an at-bat in play, they allowed him to keep his pitch count so low, he was able to cruise through nine innings.

So, what’s the strategy tonight at loanDepot Park? Continue to be aggressive and hope more of those hits produce runs? Or try to make Alcantara work and perhaps get him out of the game sooner and force the Marlins to go to their bullpen? There’s no right answer, of course. The Nats just have to hope they can find a way to beat the Cy Young Award favorite and avoid their 99th loss of the season.

Erick Fedde makes his 25th start of the year for the Nationals, his fourth against the Marlins. Historically, the right-hander has been successful against them, but he labored last weekend in D.C., allowing three runs on seven hits while throwing 87 pitches in only four innings before getting hooked. Fedde has got to find a way to be more efficient tonight to give his team a chance against Alcantara and Co.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at MIAMI MARLINS
Where:
loanDepot Park
Gametime: 6:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS
RF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
1B Joey Meneses
DH Luke Voit
LF Alex Call
SS CJ Abrams
3B Ildemaro Vargas
CF Victor Robles
C Riley Adams 

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Rotation puzzle for final 12 games looks complicated

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MIAMI – There are 12 games remaining on the Nationals’ schedule, 12 games that need to be played in 12 days (with one off-day still on tap but a day-night doubleheader also on the slate). Which means Davey Martinez and Jim Hickey have 12 more starting pitchers to name, which is becoming a more daunting challenge than either man anticipated.

In a perfect world, the Nationals would’ve had more starters than dates that needed to be filled. They would have Cade Cavalli and MacKenzie Gore ready to finish strong and perhaps allow Josiah Gray to shut down early. They would have the ability to prevent Patrick Corbin from making a run at 20 losses. They would have kids they could summon from their farm system to take over at the end for veterans who just don’t need the work at this point.

But this is not a perfect world, and so Martinez and Hickey may be forced to do some things with their rotation they’d rather not.

Consider Gray, for example. The Nationals have been talking for months about their preference not to let the 24-year-old’s workload get too heavy in his first full professional season. The intention was always going to be to shut him down at some point in late September.

But following Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the Marlins – in which Gray looked really sharp for five innings before faltering in the sixth – Martinez admitted this decision has gotten tougher in the wake of Corbin’s recent back injury. (The left-hander, who was removed from his last start after only 12 pitches, played catch Friday and reported improvement, but there’s still no guarantee he returns to pitch before season’s end.)

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Strong start turns sour for Gray, Nats lose 98th game (updated)

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MIAMI – As he’s done throughout his first full big league season, Josiah Gray did some things tonight that could only leave the Nationals encouraged about his prospects for long-term success.

Gray didn’t surrender a home run for the first time since June 18. And he didn’t walk a batter through his first five innings of work against the Marlins, keeping his pitch count much lower than he has throughout most of the summer.

But just as he’s done throughout his first full big league season, Gray also did just enough to turn what could’ve been a strong start into something much less satisfying. With a ragged, three-run bottom of the sixth, the Nats right-hander lost his shot at a quality start and left his team in a position to eventually lose 5-2.

Gray’s 10th loss of the season sent the Nationals to their 98th loss of the season. With presumptive Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara set to start for Miami on Saturday, they very well may take the field Sunday afternoon trying to avoid reaching the 100-loss mark for the first time in 13 years.

A lack of offense beyond Lane Thomas’ leadoff homer in the first and Joey Meneses’ RBI double in the eighth didn’t help matters. But in the end, Gray proved to be the story of the night, for both encouraging and discouraging reasons.

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Gore to make another rehab start, Corbin resumes throwing

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MIAMI – MacKenzie Gore will make another rehab start for Triple-A Rochester, leaving the left-hander with enough time to make only major league start for the Nationals before season’s end.

Gore, who threw 67 pitches over four innings of one-run ball Wednesday in his third rehab start, will return to Rochester and attempt to build up to five innings Monday against Worcester.

“We talked to him before he left about trying to throw strike one every (at-bat) and work from there. And as the game went along, they said he started doing a lot more of that,” manager Davey Martinez said. “That’s encouraging. For me, it’s just about honing in on his mechanics, throwing more strikes. And once he does that, I think the five innings and 75 pitches will come.”

Already on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation when the Nationals acquired him as part of the haul of prospects the Padres sent them for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, Gore has slowly built his arm back up over the last six weeks.

The plan all along has included the possibility of one or two major league starts before season’s end. At this point, there wouldn’t be enough time for him to make more than one.

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Game 150 lineups: Nats at Marlins

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MIAMI – Fresh off what I’m sure was a relaxing day off here in Miami, the Nationals open a three-game weekend series with the Marlins, their last chance to face a team that isn’t in the pennant race before the season ends.

The Nats took two of three from Miami last weekend in D.C. in one of their better performances during an improved September stretch. Their only loss came to Sandy Alcantara, and unfortunately they’ll have to face the presumptive National League Cy Young Award winner again Saturday. So that perhaps puts some added pressure to win tonight’s opener.

That means Josiah Gray needs to put together a solid outing, something he hasn’t done in a while. In three September starts so far, the right-hander has a 9.45 ERA, with 10 walks and five home runs allowed over only 13 1/3 innings. He hasn’t earned a win in any of his last 15 starts.

You would hope the spacious outfield here at loanDepot Park would help Gray keep the ball in the yard. So the key to success, then, may well be his ability to limit the walks that have so often plagued him this year.

The Nationals go up against Braxton Garrett, the rookie left-hander who enters with a 3.68 ERA in 14 big league starts. He faced them once before, on July 4 in D.C., where he allowed only one run on four hits over 7 1/3 impressive innings.

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Slow-working Finnegan isn't worried about pitch clock

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Kyle Finnegan smiles when the subject comes up. He knows he’s one of the slowest-working pitchers in the majors. And he knows people assume that will become a major problem once he’s subject to a pitch clock next season.

Here’s what the Nationals closer wants you to know about that: He spent two seasons in the minor leagues with a pitch clock enforced and had no trouble adhering to it. But until he’s required to speed his process up, he’s not going to voluntarily do it.

“I think it’s just a product of taking what’s given to you,” he said earlier this week. “There’s no clock here, so why not make sure you’re ready to go?”

Nobody’s going to claim Finnegan isn’t giving himself enough time to make sure he’s ready. According to Baseball Savant, he averages 25.6 seconds between pitches when there’s nobody on base, fourth-slowest in the majors. With runners on base, that number goes up to 28.5 seconds, sixth-slowest in the sport.

(Important qualifier here: That “tempo” stat Baseball Savant uses tracks how long it takes from the time a pitcher releases the ball for one pitch until the time he releases it for the next pitch. The pitch clock that Major League Baseball will institute next year - 15 seconds with nobody on base, 20 seconds with runners on base - starts when the pitcher receives the throw-back from his catcher and ends when he begins his delivery. Accounting for that, Finnegan’s pace this season drops to 19.6 seconds with nobody on base, 22.5 seconds with runners on base.)

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Barrera makes the most of rare opportunity with two-hit day

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It wasn’t the most graceful of slides. A catcher barreling headfirst into first base, a Velcro strap careening off of his elbow guard. 

But he was safe. Anything for Tres Barrera to get his first big league hit in over a month.

“First, I was trying to run so fast to get to first base,” Barrera said, smiling. “I saw (Braves second baseman Vaughn Grissom) dive, I was like, 'Dang, I gotta get there.' I kinda felt my body weight shift over to the front side, so I was almost trying to keep myself from falling and looking dumb so I just said, 'I’ll go into a headfirst slide' after that.

“It probably still didn’t look very cool, but honestly, that’s what happened.”

Despite being recalled from Triple-A Rochester three weeks ago, Barrera hadn’t received a single plate appearance since Aug. 21, instead watching from the bench as Riley Adams and Israel Pineda caught game after game.

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Meneses’ go-ahead homer helps Nats salvage series finale in Atlanta (updated)

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ATLANTA - Like a library desperate for an overdue rental, the Nationals were making empty threats, lacking the power to follow through. 

Washington had scored just five total runs and gone a combined 4-for-22 with runners in scoring position over the last three games, all losses. 

But Wednesday in Atlanta, the Nats finally broke through, and all it took was one mighty swing from Joey Meneses. 

The 30-year-old rookie mashed a two-run homer onto the second deck in left field in the seventh inning, turning around what was then a 2-1 game and helping the Nationals (52-97) take the series finale over the Braves (93-56) by a final of 3-2. 

"I can't say enough about what Joey's been doing since he came here," manager Davey Martinez said after the win. "He's been hitting doubles, homers, getting on base, playing good defense."

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Gore's impending Nats debut provides optimism before season's end

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ATLANTA - Thirty-four Nationals have pitched at least one inning this season, a remarkably high total that includes five rookies and three position players.

The 35th could be the most intriguing to date.

MacKenzie Gore, the former top-100 prospect acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade, will make another rehab start for Triple-A Rochester tonight as he pushes to make his Nats debut before season’s end.

Manager Davey Martinez expects Gore to throw about 60-65 pitches, hoping to see more consistency from the 23-year-old.

“This is like spring training all over for him,” said Martinez. “We’ll try to give him four ups and see where he’s at.”

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Game 149 lineups: Nationals at Braves

Game 149 lineups: Nationals at Braves

ATLANTA - Last night’s injury to Patrick Corbin shined an even brighter light on the Nationals’ missing pitching depth.

But it doesn’t get to the heart of the team’s central issue right now: lack of run production. 

The Nationals have scored just five total runs over their last three games, including two in each of the first two games of their series against the Braves. They haven’t left the yard since a four-homer game against the Marlins on Sept. 17.

After Joey Meneses’ four-hit day in the series opener Monday, no Nat collected more than one hit in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss. Washington went just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. 

Atlanta, meanwhile, clinched a postseason berth with last night’s win and the Brewers’ loss to the Mets. 

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Long list of injured pitchers grows with addition of Patrick Corbin

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ATLANTA - Cade Cavalli, Sean Doolittle, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Rainey, Jackson Tetreault, Evan Lee…

Patrick Corbin.

The list of injured Nationals pitchers contains rookies and veterans. It has consumed righties and lefties alike. It seems to grow by the week.

After Corbin exited Tuesday’s game with back spasms, an already lean Nats rotation thinned even more, leaving Josiah Gray, Erick Fedde and Anibal Sanchez as the only bona fide starters. 

Perhaps you could throw Cory Abbott in the mix. Paolo Espino lurks.

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Nats' bats scuffle again, Corbin exits in 3-2 loss to Braves (updated)

Nats' bats scuffle again, Corbin exits in 3-2 loss to Braves (updated)

ATLANTA - Patrick Corbin took an exceptionally long time between pitches. He shuffled his feet, kicked some dirt and adjusted his belt ever so slowly before turning around and motioning to the second base umpire.

Something wasn’t quite right.

Corbin left with back spasms in the first inning of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Braves after throwing just 12 pitches. After throwing a 76-mph slider high and outside to Matt Olson and fidgeting around the rubber, the lefty was greeted by manager Davey Martinez and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard.

Corbin, who leads the Nationals (51-97) in both starts and innings pitched, stretched his back before taking a slow walk to the visitors' dugout.

"He just threw a pitch and (his back) tightened up on him," Martinez said after the game. "We watched him, he started trying to stretch. We went out there and he said it just cramped up on him. ... As he was getting back on the mound, he said he couldn't get loose, so the smart thing to do is just get him out of there."

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Corbin exits with apparent injury after throwing 12 pitches vs. Braves

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ATLANTA - Nationals starter Patrick Corbin exited Tuesday’s game against the Braves with an apparent injury after throwing just 12 pitches in the first inning.

Corbin’s final pitch of the evening was a 76-mph slider up-and-away to Braves cleanup hitter Matt Olson. The lefty was slow to return to the rubber before eventually calling for time.

Corbin, who leads the team in innings pitched, has averaged 82 mph on his slider this season, per FanGraphs. 

He stretched his back while being attended to by manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard, then headed toward the visitors' dugout with Lessard. Erasmo Ramirez warmed quickly and replaced Corbin on the mound, completing a strikeout of Olson.

Corbin retired just two batters and allowed a single to Dansby Swanson.

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30-year-old rookie Joey Meneses brings savvy to Nats clubhouse

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ATLANTA - When Joey Meneses signed with the Atlanta Braves, he was three days from his 19th birthday. It was May 2011, and Truist Park was six years from being built.

Eleven years later, a 30-year-old Meneses played his first game in Atlanta, wearing the uniform of the Braves’ division rivals. He went 4-for-4 with four singles, raising his batting average to .325 through his first 41 career big league games. 

“The whole time I was playing in the minors to get to this point, to get this opportunity,” Meneses said through interpreter Octavio Martinez after Monday’s game. “I just want to do as well as possible up here and, hopefully, remain here as long as possible.”

Meneses’ Baseball-Reference page can’t be read without scrolling several times. His career includes stops in Mexico, Japan and four major league organizations, spanning 12 years.

There were plenty of good seasons in there. His final season in the Braves organization came in 2017, when he hit .292 with a .763 OPS for Double-A Mississippi at age 25. After signing with the Phillies that winter, Meneses hit .311 with 23 home runs and an .870 OPS for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

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Game 148 lineups: Nationals at Braves

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ATLANTA - It’s been an awfully long time since the Nationals have put together a complete offensive game. The Nats haven’t scored more than five runs in a game since a Sept. 8 blowout win in St. Louis. 

A day after Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara tossed a one-run complete game in Washington, the Nats' bats sputtered again in Atlanta last night, plating just two runs on nine hits in a 5-2 loss.

Optimism comes in the form of the opposing pitcher, veteran Charlie Morton, who has been prone to surrendering the longball this season. The 38-year-old has allowed 24 homers in 28 starts, tied for sixth-most in the National League.

Nats starter Patrick Corbin is two spots ahead of Morton on that list, lobbing 27 dingers in his 29 starts. 

Last night’s loss dropped the Nats to 3-11 against the Braves this season and 13-48 against the NL East as a whole.

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With Cruz close to returning, Nats face decision at designated hitter

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ATLANTA - Lined with wooden lockers and topped by fluorescent bulbs, the visitor’s clubhouse at Truist Park isn’t the most well-lit room. It’s even darker from behind Nelson Cruz’s sunglasses.

The 42-year-old has donned the shades as he deals with a lefty eye infection that has kept him out of action since Sept. 13. But the specs could be coming off soon.

“He’s better,” said manager Davey Martinez. “The drops are working. It’s very slow but he said he feels better today.”

“It’s good news, so hopefully we can get him back here in a few days.”

Cruz took batting practice with the team before Monday’s series opener, another step towards a return that appears imminent.

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Nats do little with nine hits, fall to Braves 5-2 (updated)

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ATLANTA - Alex Call raced back to the warning track, found the wall, halted, and leapt upward, kicking up dirt and reaching his glove toward the sky.

He missed.

The ball, hit at a 41-degree launch angle, floated inches above Call’s glove, and Austin Riley’s 37th home run of the season landed in the seats just beyond the left field wall.

Even the Braves’ pop-ups are home runs.

Atlanta (92-55) mashed their National League-leading 221st and 222nd homers of the season in a 5-2 win over Washington (51-96) in the series opener on Monday night. The Nationals, meanwhile, scored just two runs on nine hits, keeping their homer total at a paltry 126.

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Nats' young catchers helping each other navigate life behind the plate

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ATLANTA - When the equipment truck loaded up in D.C. and prepared to drive to the Nationals' charter plane, it was crammed with more catching gear than usual.

A total of four catchers have spots in the visitors' clubhouse at Truist Park: Riley Adams, Tres Barrera, Israel Pineda and Keibert Ruiz. Adams starts tonight, catching starter Cory Abbott, while Barrera and Pineda will be on the bench. Ruiz is the surprise addition, as the 24-year-old has recently been cleared to travel with the team.

“He’s feeling better,” said manager Davey Martinez of Ruiz, who has been sidelined since Sept. 8 with a testicular contusion. “He’s still pretty sore, but he obviously is feeling better, he’s able to fly with us.”

Ruiz won’t appear in any more games in 2022, but the Nats have designs for him in the final two weeks of the season.

“We want to keep him around,” Martinez said before Monday’s series opener. “Before the season’s over, he can maybe just kinda work out light and get going so that when the time comes, we feel like he’s ready to get ready for the season, spring training next year.”

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