Abrams' late heroics not enough as Nats fall short of sweep (updated)

CJ Abrams swing gray

NEW YORK – It might have been too much to ask for the Nationals’ first three-game sweep since June 2021 and first three-game sweep on the road since August 2019.

After dominating performances in the first two games at Citi Field, going home with just a series win should be satisfactory for the last-place Nats. But, man, did they put up a fight for the sweep.

After a dramatic comeback to take the lead in the top of the eighth, the Nats bullpen had a rare meltdown in the bottom half of the inning, as they couldn’t complete the sweep with a 9-8 loss to the Mets in front of 20,726 stunned fans in Queens.

With an 8-7 lead thanks to CJ Abrams’ first career grand slam, Mason Thompson, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball but who also threw 28 pitches over three innings here two nights ago, entered the bottom of the eighth to try to get it to the ninth.

Thompson surrendered a leadoff single to Brandon Nimmo, who then stole second base. Starling Marte moved him up to third with a flyout to center and then back-to-back RBIs from Francisco Lindor on a double and Pete Alonso on a single brought home the tying and go-ahead runs.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Vargas leaves for rehab assignment; Martinez on lineup changes

Ildemaro Vargas throwing gray

NEW YORK – The Nationals had one noticeable player missing from the clubhouse before tonight’s series finale against the Mets. Ildemaro Vargas, on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder strain since April 11, left the team to start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester.

“He went out this morning, though they, unfortunately, had a day game today,” manager Davey Martinez said of his backup utility infielder. “So he's got to start playing tomorrow.”

Vargas jammed his shoulder while making a diving play earlier this month in Colorado. He had recently been able to most of the usual baseball activities, but Martinez had said it still bothered the switch-hitter when swinging right-handed.

When he arrives at Rochester, Vargas will get most of his reps at shortstop while also getting at-bats from both sides of the plate.

“Yeah, he's got to go out there,” Martinez said. “I want him to play some shortstop. I want to see him field. He's definitely got to swing the bat. Hopefully, he can swing both left-handed and right-handed. But we'll see how he does and we'll see how long it's gonna take for him to go out and come back. There's no timetable yet, but hopefully it's only a few days.”

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 24 lineups: Nats at Mets

trevor williams cherry

NEW YORK – Here we go again: For the second straight series, the Nationals have put themselves in position to earn their first three-game sweep since June 14-16, 2021, when they took three straight at home against the Pirates. It’s also the second straight series they’ll have this opportunity on the road, this time at Citi Field against the Mets, who entered this series only a half-game out of first place in the National League East. The Nats last swept a three-game road series Aug. 23-25, 2019 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Trevor Williams will look to become the fourth straight Nats starting pitcher to turn in a quality start and fifth in the last six games. He’ll also be doing so while taking the mound at Citi Field for the first time since signing a two-year, $13 million contract with the Nats this offseason.

Williams is off to a strong start with his new team. He’s a respectable 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.078 WHIP over his first four starts, completing at least five innings each time out and allowing no more than three runs per start.

The Nationals offense will be tasked with facing their first left-hander of this series in Joey Lucchesi. The 29-year-old made his first major league start since recovering from Tommy John surgery last year on Friday in San Francisco, completing seven shutout innings and allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out nine in a win over the Giants.

Victor Robles is the only Nationals regular to have faced Lucchesi ahead of tonight, going 4-for-8 with a solo home run. Meanwhile, Dominic Smith gets a day off and Stone Garrett will DH against Lucchesi, moving Joey Meneses to first base. And Luis García takes tonight off, but it’s Michael Chavis playing second base instead of Jeter Downs.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

How the Nats busted Senga's "ghost forkball"

Joey Meneses Jeimer Candelario five gray

NEW YORK – The talk around the Big Apple the past two nights when it comes to baseball has been about the Nationals’ young starting pitchers. And rightfully so.

Josiah Gray (nine strikeouts over six shutout innings on Tuesday) and MacKenzie Gore (matching a career-high 10 strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball on Wednesday) have dominated recent headlines like they dominated the Mets lineup over the last two nights.

But lost in the pitching hysteria last night was how the Nats’ own lineup handled one of the more difficult pitches to face in the sport.

Kodai Senga, the 30-year-old right-hander the Mets signed to a five-year, $75 million deal over the offseason out of Japan, is known for throwing a “ghost forkball.” It’s not officially called that by any metric. If you look at his Statcast page, it’s just a forkball.

But it got its name from the way it comes at hitters like a fastball and just seems to disappear right before crossing the plate. Coming into last night’s start, the pitch had a 54 percent whiff rate and a 30 percent putaway rate. Opponents had managed just three hits in 25 at-bats ending with the forkball for a .120 average.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Gore becomes second straight young Nats starter to dominate Mets (updated)

GettyImages-1485569677

NEW YORK – The Nationals were looking for an encore from another one of their young starting pitchers after Josiah Gray tossed six scoreless innings against the Mets last night.

Next up in the rotation was MacKenzie Gore. And like Gray, he did not disappoint.

After Tuesday’s dazzling performance by the young right-hander acquired in the trade of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner two summers ago, the young left-hander acquired in the trade of Juan Soto and Josh Bell last summer held the Mets lineup in check while leading the Nationals to a 4-1 victory in front of 20,191 fans in Queens.

In doing so, Gore helped the Nationals seal their second consecutive series win. They will go for a Citi Field sweep here tomorrow night.

It’s hard not to see the similarities between the two games played here so far. Gray struck out nine batters last night using his four pitches. Gore struck out 10, matching his career high, and like Gray, he used his full arsenal to confuse the opposing lineup, with his fastball and curveball racking up the Ks.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Martinez repeating lineup for just the third time

garcia hr @ NYM gray

NEW YORK – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Davey Martinez hasn’t really followed that motto through this season’s first 22 games, still tinkering with his lineup to find the right combination while also keeping matchups in mind on any given night.

The Nationals have used 20 different batting orders through the first month of the season. Early on, it was largely due to the high volume of opposing left-handed starters they faced, causing Martinez to switch around the order a lot.

The only time the manager has trotted out the same lineup for back-to-back games was on April 14-15 against the Guardians and on April 16 and 18 against the Guardians and Orioles, all four against opposing right-handed starters.

Tonight’s second game against the Mets will mark the third time the Nationals will trot out the same lineup for consecutive games, with Alex Call leading off, Luis García remaining in the second spot, Jeimer Candelario hitting third, Joey Meneses batting cleanup, and Keibert Ruiz, Dominic Smith, Lane Thomas, CJ Abrams and Victor Robles following.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 23 lineups: Nats at Mets

Jeimer Candelario gray cold

NEW YORK – After Josiah Gray dominated the Mets lineup and finally got some much-needed run support for a win last night, MacKenzie Gore will take the mound at Citi Field tonight looking to repeat the feat.

Gore will face the Mets for the first time, with only tonight’s designated hitter Tommy Pham facing him before, hitting .400 in five at-bats. The left-hander is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA over his first four starts with the Nats. Though he’s been solid with runs and strikeouts, Gore will look to limit his walks, having issued four free passes in three of his four outings.

The Nationals offense will face right-hander Kodai Senga in the regular season for the first time. Senga made one spring training start against the Nats in West Palm Beach on March 16, allowing one run on three hits with five strikeouts in three innings.

Signed to a five-year, $75 million contract out of Japan this offseason, Senga is known for throwing his “ghost forkball,” while also throwing a 95-96 mph fastball, cutter and slider. Though he has a 3-0 record and strong strikeout numbers, he too has struggled with walks and homers, giving up at least three free passes in each of his four outings and at least one home run in each of his last three.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at NEW YORK METS
Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB Network (out-of-market only), MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 54 degrees, wind 11 mph out to left-center field

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

After six seasons with Mets, Smith "thankful" in return to Citi Field

Dominic Smith

NEW YORK – Dominic Smith is familiar with Citi Field. It’s the only home major league ballpark he’s ever known. That is at least until this season.

For the first time in his career when he arrived at Citi Field yesterday for the Nationals’ opener against the Mets, he came down the tunnel from the team bus in the left field corner and entered the visitor’s clubhouse instead of going all the way around to the first base-side home clubhouse, like he had during his six seasons with the Mets.

“It feels good, it was good. It feels good to be back,” Smith said yesterday in front of his new locker at Citi Field.

“Going in the back way was definitely a different way for me to go in. The tunnel, everything was a little bit different today. But yeah, you definitely do have memories when you come back here. Obviously, I was drafted here and I remember coming here after I got drafted 17, 18 years old, so it's pretty fun still being able to come back here and play baseball.”

Smith was the Mets’ first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall) out of Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., in 2013. He would make his major league debut with the Mets four summers later on this very field as one of the organization’s top prospects.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Gray dominates Mets to earn first win of season (updated)

GettyImages-1485240734

NEW YORK – Every Josiah Gray start so far this season has resulted in a loss. Both for the Nationals and the right-hander himself.

That’s not all on Gray, however. Take away his rough first outing against the Braves and he has been excellent over his last three, pitching to a 2.16 ERA and only one home run allowed.

That stretch of dominance carried over into tonight’s series opener against the Mets, as the New Rochelle, N.Y. native showed in front of 20,507 fans near his hometown to earn a 5-0 win, his first of the season.

It’s also his first win since July 6, when he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts over six innings of two-run ball in Philadelphia.

"Just going with the game plan early on," Gray said after the game. "Just seeing how they were adjusting to my stuff, how they were swinging the bat, how they were taking pitches and just a lot of good opportunities early to just throw strike one. So the more we did that, the more we kind of just commanded the zone and were able to utilize that. So just doing a lot of strikes early and having the putaway pitches was (what) led to a lot of success today.”

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Doolittle throws live BP session

doolittle-throws-white

NEW YORK – Sean Doolittle took a significant step forward in his rehab from a procedure on his left elbow.

The left-hander, signed to a minor league deal and working out at the Nationals complex in West Palm Beach, finally faced live hitters in a batting practice session for the first time since the early portions of spring training.

“Doolittle actually threw a live BP,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame meeting with the media in his office at Citi Field. “I'm still waiting on the results now, but the gist of it is that he felt really good. And so I want to see what the velo is and how many pitches he threw. I haven't got it yet.”

Even with the specific details of the outing still to be known, getting on the mound and facing live hitters is no small feat for the 36-year-old.

“We were trying to get him about 20 pitches,” Martinez said. “So like I said, I haven't seen the results yet. But from what I heard, he said he felt really good afterwards.”

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 22 lineups: Nats at Mets

CJ Abrams running gray

NEW YORK – The Nationals have arrived in the Big Apple for what is, oddly, just their second series against a division rival. The new schedule format implemented this season means they will face National League East opponents fewer times than in past years. This three-game set against the Mets will be their first against a division foe since the season-opening series against the Braves, and the first on the road.

Josiah Gray gets the ball to start tonight’s opener in a homecoming for the New Rochelle, N.Y. native. With a respectable 3.74 ERA over his first four starts, the right-hander will look to earn his first win after starting the season 0-4, due mainly to a lack of run support. The Nationals offense has been held scoreless in each of Gray’s last three starts and has only scored one run in any game he’s started, coming well after he departed his first start in the ninth inning on April 1 via a Keibert Ruiz solo home run.

Meanwhile, José Butto will fill Max Scherzer’s spot in the rotation to start the opener for the home side. The former Nationals and current Mets ace would have been on schedule to start tonight, but is instead serving a 10-game suspension following his ejection Thursday for having a foreign substance on his hand during a game.

Butto is a 25-year-old right-hander who is the Mets’ No. 15 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. In his season debut on April 16 in Oakland, he pitched five innings of one-run ball, but surrendered five hits and four walks while only striking out two.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at NEW YORK METS
Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 56 degrees, wind 8 mph out to right field

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

García right in the middle of Nats' double play renaissance

garcia throws @ MIA blue

As he stood on the mound with one out in the bottom of the ninth Friday night in Minnesota, the potential tying run in scoring position and the potential winning run on base, Kyle Finnegan could’ve panicked about the jam he had just put himself and the Nationals in. Instead, he considered the best-case scenario that could play out if he could just do his job and trust his teammates behind him to do the rest.

“I execute this pitch here, he’s going to hit it on the ground and we’re going to turn a double play and win,” Finnegan recalled thinking to himself in that moment. “To see it play out, and to be able to trust your defense that they’re going to make a play, it’s everything.”

Sure enough, Finnegan’s first pitch was a 94 mph sinker on the inside corner, jamming José Miranda, who hit a sharp grounder to third. Jeimer Candelario scooped it up and threw to second baseman Luis García, who made the quick turn and fired to Dominic Smith at first base for the game-ending, 5-4-3 double play.

The Nationals couldn’t have drawn it up any better. And these days that’s exactly how they’re drawing it up, because their infield defense has become a legitimate strength after causing so many headaches last season.

The Nats have turned 25 double plays through their first 21 games. Only the Cardinals, who have played one more game, have turned more among all major league clubs.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

How Thompson became a strike-throwing machine

Mason Thompson

MINNEAPOLIS – During the final days of the 2022 season, Mason Thompson entered Davey Martinez’s office for the same kind of exit interview everyone on the Nationals roster was given before leaving for the winter.

It was a chance for Thompson to discuss what he felt he did well and what he did not do well in his first full big league season. And, more importantly, it was a chance for Martinez and his staff to tell Thompson what they believed he could do to get better.

The primary message they wanted to get across to the big reliever: Throw strike one, because things get a lot easier for him once he does.

“They broke down my numbers and said: ‘When you get ahead, you’re basically unhittable,’” Thompson recalled Sunday. “That was the main focus this offseason, just pounding the zone. For me, it’s produced a good result.”

That’s putting it mildly. After tossing 2 1/3 innings with one unearned run scoring on his watch and emerging as the winning pitcher in the Nationals’ 10-4 thumping of the Twins, Thompson finds himself the owner of some enviable season stats. His ERA is 1.15. His WHIP is 0.638. He has 13 strikeouts and only one walk.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Nats go quiet at plate again, can't sweep Twins (updated)

nationals gray

MINNEAPOLIS – The Nationals aren’t going to score 10 runs every day. They know that. They know as much fun as Saturday’s lopsided win over the Twins was, that’s not often going to be their path to victory.

For these Nationals to win, execution in key moments is imperative. If they only provide themselves with a handful of legitimate scoring opportunities each game, they’re going to have to make the most of them and hope their pitching is good enough to make it stand up.

The pitching was good enough this afternoon at Target Field. Patrick Corbin gave up three runs in six innings, a quality start that can only be deemed a success for the long-struggling left-hander. The lineup, however, did not come close to making the most of its few scoring opportunities, in one particular instance giving away outs in spectacular fashion to help make a 3-1 loss to Minnesota possible.

Thus did the Nats fail to do something they haven’t done in nearly two years: sweep a three-game series, last achieved in June 2021 against the Pirates. And they certainly didn’t do something they hadn’t done in nearly four years: sweep a road series, last achieved in August 2019 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"The guys played hard, and they played hard today," manager Davey Martinez said. "To come out of here, when these guys have been playing well, and win two out of three with a day off coming up tomorrow, it feels good."

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Thomas gets first day off, Meneses back to DH

meneses gray

MINNEAPOLIS – Two members of the Nationals lineup started each of the season’s first 20 games. Only one of them will have started each of the first 21 games.

Lane Thomas is not playing today’s series finale against the Twins, the right fielder finally getting a chance to rest more than three weeks after Opening Day.

“Just felt like giving him a day off today,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I’ve been wanting to give him a day off, so I thought today would be a good day for him.”

Thomas has been perhaps the team’s most consistent hitter so far, though he has cooled off in recent days. Owner of a .323 batting average through the first 16 games, he’s gone two for his last 17 with seven strikeouts, including three during Saturday’s 10-4 win at Target Field.

The 27-year-old talked this spring about his desire to get off to a strong start, recognizing how streaky he was last season. He’s been pleased with the way he’s put together quality at-bats for the most part this month.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 21 lineups: Nats at Twins

corbin white

MINNEAPOLIS – Do you remember the last time the Nationals swept a three-game series? Here are some hints: 1) Kyle Schwarber was their leadoff hitter, 2) Ryan Zimmerman was a pinch-hitter, 3) Brad Hand got the save. If you said June 16, 2021, when the Nats beat the Pirates to complete a three-game sweep in D.C., congratulations!

Yes, it’s been a long time, and a lot of things have changed around here. But today, these Nationals have an opportunity to finally accomplish that feat again if they can beat the Twins for the third straight day.

To do that, they’re going to need to keep their bats hot after Saturday’s 10-run explosion. The weather’s a little bit warmer today, if that helps at all. They’re facing another relatively unknown pitcher in Bailey Ober, a 27-year-old right-hander who was squeezed out of the Twins’ Opening Day rotation but was just called up from Triple-A St. Paul to make a spot start. He pitched well in the minors, and he’s got solid big league numbers as well (3.82 ERA, 1.146 WHIP in 31 career starts), but the Nats have never seen him before.

The Nationals also need Patrick Corbin to give them a chance, something that has too often proved too difficult a challenge for the left-hander. Corbin was better in his last start, though, holding the Guardians to two earned runs (four overall) in six innings, all of the damage coming in one inning. He’s had a full week of rest, so that could help as well.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at MINNESOTA TWINS
Where: Target Field
Gametime: 1:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 42 degrees, wind 9 mph out to right field

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Nats stay hot in the cold, beat Twins for first series win (updated)

Jeimer Candelario gray cold

MINNEAPOLIS – As the mercury dropped to 35 degrees – remarkably 2 degrees colder than it was Friday night for what temporarily stood as the coldest game in club history – the Nationals bundled up in long sleeves, gloves, hoodies, balaclavas, anything they could find to protect themselves from the elements and took the field this afternoon in search of the kind of offense that has eluded them throughout the season’s first 20 games.

And then a funny thing happened. They scored two runs in the top of the first. Then two more in the top of the second. And they just kept going and going until they walked out of Target Field with a resounding 10-4 victory over the Twins and their stunned (and well-compensated) ace.

Who cares what the thermometer read. The Nationals inexplicably have been at their best this month the colder it’s been. Their best offensive display to date had come in Colorado, which of course also has the added benefit of thin air. Now they’ve won two games in a row in Minnesota despite the ever-present threat of snow flurries, and in the process secured their first series victory of the young season. On Sunday, they'll attempt to complete their first three-game sweep since June 2021.

"If we keep playing like this," manager Davey Martinez said, "I hope it's 20 degrees for the next four months."

That probably won't be happening without a massive shift in global warming trends, so eventually the Nationals will have to learn how to hit on a hot day. But for now, it's been a winning formula, Friday night via a late rally to eke out a 3-2 win. Today’s came far more comfortably, with offensive fireworks both early and late, and contributors up and down the lineup.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Meneses gets chance to play first base, Ruiz gets chance to sit

Joey Meneses throws gray

MINNEAPOLIS – The role of designated hitter can be tougher than it sounds, especially for someone who has spent most of his career playing a position in the field but then finds himself only batting four times a game and watching the rest of the game from the dugout.

It’s admittedly been an adjustment for Joey Meneses through the first month of this season. Having played either first base or the outfield most of his professional life, the 30-year-old has become the Nationals’ everyday DH.

Perhaps that has something to do with Meneses’ slow start at the plate. He enters this afternoon’s game against the Twins batting .227/.266/.333 through his first 18 games, and he just finally hit his first home run Friday night.

“He’s trying to develop a routine DHing,” manager Davey Martinez said. “It’s tough when you’re DHing every day to find a routine, when you’ve never done it before.”

With that in mind, Martinez decided to have Meneses and Dominic Smith switch roles this afternoon. Though Smith is the superior defensive player, he’ll serve as DH and give Meneses a chance to play first base and keep himself more engaged in the game.

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Game 20 lineups: Nats at Twins

GettyImages-1251165260

MINNEAPOLIS – After playing (and winning) the coldest game in club history Friday night, the Nationals are back at it this afternoon for what might even be a colder game despite the earlier start time. Temperatures again are in the 30s, and the wind has picked up, making it feel even colder. Gotta love it.

The Nats’ bats finally got hot just in time Friday night to pull out a 3-2 win. They’ll be facing a tougher pitcher today in Pablo López, who just signed a four-year, $73.5 million extension with the Twins. The 27-year-old right-hander has a 1.73 ERA, 0.808 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 26 innings so far this season, so he certainly earned that contract. The Nationals do know him from his five seasons with the Marlins and faced him three times last year, scoring five runs on 10 hits over 15 1/3 innings.

Chad Kuhl gets the ball for his fourth start of the season, and he’s going to need to be better than he has been in his first three outings if he wants to avoid speculation about losing his place in the rotation. Kuhl has allowed four or more earned runs each time out, and he has yet to record an out in the sixth inning. He’ll be challenged to keep Minnesota’s potent lineup in the park this afternoon, especially with the wind blowing out to right.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at MINNESOTA TWINS
Where: Target Field
Gametime: 1:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Cloudy, 37 degrees, wind 16 mph out to right field

NATIONALS
LF Alex Call
3B Jeimer Candelario
1B Joey Meneses
2B Luis García
RF Lane Thomas
DH Dominic Smith
C Riley Adams
SS CJ Abrams
CF Victor Robles

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments

Nats break through with late rally for chilly win over Twins (updated)

GettyImages-1252061498

MINNEAPOLIS - Combine the coldest lineup in the majors with the coldest gametime temperature in club history, and it could not have taken anyone by surprise to see nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard for six innings tonight at Target Field.

Did you really expect these Nationals to get hot on a 37-degree April night in the Great White North?

Well, actually, yeah. It just took a while to finally happen.

But once it did, once Joey Meneses launched his first homer of the season in the seventh, and once Lane Thomas and Keibert Ruiz delivered back-to-back two-out RBI singles in the eighth, everything was OK again for the Nationals, who exchanged high-fives and handshakes on the field and then quickly bolted for the heated clubhouse to further celebrate a much-needed, 3-2 victory over the Twins.

"We were huddled under our one little heater we've got out there (in the bullpen)," closer Kyle Finnegan said. "Taking the lead there definitely gets us going. You start moving around, get the juices flowing a little bit. It's exciting. Take the lead late in a game and then shut it down to get the win? You've got to enjoy a win like that."

Continue reading
  0 Comments
0 Comments