Game 35 lineups: Nats vs. Orioles

abrams city

OK, who’s ready for Round 1 of the 2024 Beltway Series? The Nationals host the Orioles the next two nights and, in a new twist, both teams will be wearing their City Connect uniforms. (I believe this is the first time any visiting team has ever worn those uniforms, but please correct me if I’m wrong about that.)

The Nats are once again sitting exactly at .500, having now alternated between wins and losses over their last eight games. They’re still trying to get over that daunting hump for the first time since July 1, 2021. If they’re going to do it tonight, they’re going to have to find a way to score some runs off Corbin Burnes.

The former Cy Young Award winner with the Brewers has continued his dominant ways in Baltimore, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 0.919 WHIP through his first seven starts of the season. He has yet to allow more than three runs in any outing.

Then again, Trevor Williams hasn’t given up more than three runs in a start yet, either, making him the Nationals’ most effective starter to date. This is a tough lineup he’s got to face tonight, and you would imagine Davey Martinez’s leash will again be short, with a well rested bullpen (that also now includes Robert Garcia) good to go whenever needed.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Where:
Nationals Park

Gametime: 6:45 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 88.7 FM (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Chance of rain, 76 degrees, wind 6 mph out to left field

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Robert Garcia activated off IL, Matt Barnes designated for assignment

Robert Garcia

The Nationals have a lefty in their bullpen again. They had to cut ties with a veteran right-hander to make it possible.

Robert Garcia was activated off the 15-day injured list, the club announced. The corresponding move: Matt Barnes was designated for assignment, likely ending his brief tenure with the organization.

Garcia was eligible to return after spending the last two weeks on the IL with the same influenza bug that previously sidelined catcher Keibert Ruiz. The left-hander initially tried to pitch through it but labored through four consecutive rough appearances before the Nats finally placed him on the IL and gave him time to fully recover.

Once healthy again, Garcia went on a rehab assignment to Single-A Fredericksburg over the weekend and pitched two scoreless innings in relief, striking out four. He’ll be available to pitch tonight in the Nats’ series opener against the Orioles.

When Garcia was shut down two weeks ago, the Nationals called up Jacob Barnes from Triple-A Rochester. The right-hander has performed well since, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 0.857 WHIP in seven games, earning the right to stay in the big leagues.

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Beltway Series offers latest challenge for improving Nats

Trevor Williams

The Nationals enjoyed a day off Monday, a sorely needed day off. They just played 13 games in 13 days, a stretch that included series against the defending World Series champions, the most star-studded roster in baseball and a four-game wraparound series that concluded with a getaway night game and then a 3-hour flight to the next city.

How’d they handle that grueling stretch? Quite well.

The Nats went 7-6 over the last two weeks, reaching the .500 mark on four separate occasions (though never clearing that magical hurdle when presented the opportunity).

They did this despite what at times has been a listless lineup, hurt by a combination of severely slumping regulars and injured veterans. Davey Martinez had to enlist the likes of Ildemaro Vargas and Alex Call to serve as his No. 5 and No. 6 hitters at times, hardly the names he envisioned when scribbling out potential lineups during spring training.

The Nationals managed to survive – even thrive, some might say – this stretch thanks to mostly quality pitching (3.48 team ERA over the last 10 games), solid defense (until a rough two-game stretch over the weekend) and a grittiness that has allowed them to pull off 12 come-from-behind wins this season (most in the majors).

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Monday morning Nats Q&A

Davey Martinez

OK, let's give this another try. If you attempted to join us Friday morning and wondered why I never bothered to answer any questions, the flight I was on at the time had no WiFi. It was quite a frustrating experience, as you might imagine. I couldn't even post a message on here letting everyone know I couldn't actually conduct the Q&A as planned.

Fortunately, I've got two feet on the ground today and a strong WiFi signal coming out of my own basement. So we should be good to go. And in a way, maybe it's better we had to postpone three days. Because there was plenty that took place this weekend worthy of further discussion.

The Nationals are 17-17 and officially in a wild card position as the day begins. It's of course way too early to consider such possibilities, but it's fun to dream for just a second, right?

If you've got something you'd like to ask, please submit your questions in the comments section below. Then check back throughout the morning for my responses. Which will actually be published this time, I promise! ...

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García, Winker, Rosario lead Nats to another comeback win (updated)

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The season is not yet one-quarter complete, and there’s far too much time left to know exactly how this is going to play out. But if you’re looking for consistent themes out of the 2024 Nationals, you might be best-served remembering the term Davey Martinez used to describe his team one week ago after it pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in club history: "Relentless."

These Nationals have their flaws, no doubt. The roster has holes, especially the lineup. The pitching can be erratic. The defense has been downright ugly the last two days.

But here at the end of the first week of May, they once again reached the .500 mark, thanks to another impressive come-from-behind victory, this one by the absurd score of 11-8 over the Blue Jays.

A game that started 1 hour, 25 minutes late due to rain, then saw the Nats dig themselves into a 6-1 hole in the third inning, somehow ended with high-fives and handshakes at the center of the diamond, thanks to a relentless offensive attack that included four hits (including a homer) from Luis García Jr., a go-ahead three-run homer from Jesse Winker and then a go-ahead two-run homer from Eddie Rosario to cap off a wild afternoon on South Capitol Street.

"It's been cool, man. It's really cool to see," said Winker, part of a club that now has a major league-leading 12 come-from-behind wins. "I'm going to use this word: It's inspiring to watch. It gives you energy."

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Nats return to former infield alignment after rough Saturday

Trey Lipscomb defense

To the eye, the Nationals have played better defense this season, whether in the form of above-average plays in the infield, strong throws from the outfield or improved work behind the plate.

The metrics don’t quite see as much improvement yet.

The Nats enter today with minus-14 Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks 26th out of 30 major league clubs, according to Sports Info Solutions. They rate better in FanGraphs’ overall defensive metric, checking in at 19th in the majors.

The most encouraging sign of improvement is in the old-fashioned department of errors: The Nationals have been charged with only 14 of them this season (tied for fifth-fewest in the majors), and that includes the four errors they committed during Saturday’s ugly 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

“Just one of those days,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward. “We’ve been playing really good defense, and I harp on it all the time. Today just wasn’t that day.”

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Game 34 lineups: Nats vs. Blue Jays

MacKenzie Gore

The Nationals didn’t get over the .500 hump Saturday, but they still have a shot at another series win this afternoon. (Weather permitting, of course, because the forecast again calls for on-and-off rain pretty much all day.)

It’ll be MacKenzie Gore on the mound, seeking his first win since April 13 despite the fact he’s pitched quite well. The left-hander has given up a total of six runs over his last three starts, but the Nationals have scored a total of five runs in those games, leaving him to take three hard-luck losses in a row. Perhaps Gore’s fortunes will change this afternoon.

The Nats will try to do some damage against an opposing starter for the first time in a week. That opposing starter is Alek Manoah, who finally makes his 2024 debut after a weird stretch to say the least. A Cy Young Award finalist in 2022, Manoah struggled to a 5.87 ERA in 19 starts last season, at which point the Blue Jays sent him to the minors (not Triple-A, but all the way down to the Florida Complex League). He came back this spring hoping to get back on track, then he landed on the 15-day injured list with a shoulder issue. Now he’s finally ready to pitch in the big leagues again, and who knows what to expect from him in this one?

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Where:
Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 88.7 FM (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Rain, 67 degrees, wind 6 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
CF Jacob Young
SS CJ Abrams
2B Luis García Jr.
DH Nick Senzel
LF Jesse Winker
1B Joey Meneses
C Keibert Ruiz
RF Eddie Rosario
3B Trey Lipscomb

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Sloppy start sinks Nats in loss to Blue Jays (updated)

Irvin pitching gray

When Jake Irvin last took the mound on Monday, the Nationals ended the day with a .500 record for the first time this late in the season since they were 40-40 entering July 2, 2021. Since then, they have had three chances to get above .500 for the first time since July 1, 2021, including today after last night’s comeback win over the Blue Jays.

So when Irvin took the mound on a cold and damp day at Nationals Park, the Nats must have liked their chances to finally post a record with more wins than losses.

But the Nats defense, which entered the day tied for the second-fewest errors committed in the major leagues, was as sloppy as the weather, handing the Blue Jays an early lead in an eventual 6-3 loss in front of 22,836 fans who endured the elements for “Star Wars” Weekend on South Capitol Street.

The sloppy play began right from the get-go, when Blue Jays leadoff hitter George Springer grounded to Nick Senzel but ended up on second base thanks to a throwing error by the Nats' third baseman. The throw one-hopped Trey Lipscomb, who didn’t do Senzel any favors by stopping the ball while making his third big league appearance at first base.

“It was a little wet. I didn't really have a good grip and didn't make too good of throws," Senzel said after finishing the game with two errors. "It sucks making two errors and not playing good defense behind Irv because he threw the ball well. It's not a great feeling.”

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Young available off bench, Gray feels good after first bullpen session

Young dugout gray

Jacob Young is available off the bench for Saturday’s game after departing in the top of the fifth inning of Friday’s 9-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

While batting leadoff and playing center field, Young was 1-for-2 with a leadoff double in the third, coming around to score the Nats’ first run of the night, but was replaced two innings later by Jesse Winker with back spasms, manager Davey Martinez confirmed after the game.

The 24-year-old outfielder was seen in the Nats clubhouse this afternoon coming back from the batting cages with his bat and gloves, presumably taking swings to test out his back. Although he’s not in the starting lineup, with Alex Call taking over in center field and CJ Abrams bumped back up to the leadoff spot, Martinez said Young should be available to either pinch-hit or pinch-run.

“He's better today. He's better,” Martinez said of Young. “He'll be available, maybe, to come off the bench. Pinch-hit or pinch-run or something. But he's doing better.”

Even though Young is feeling better, Martinez did not play with the idea of putting him back in the starting lineup today.

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Game 33 lineups: Nats vs. Blue Jays

irvin pitching blue

May the Fourth be with you!

The Nationals continue celebrating “Star Wars” Weekend today with their second game against the Blue Jays. The first 15,000 fans at today’s game will receive an X-Wing Pilot Kyle Finnegan bobblehead while entering the gates.

Once again, the Nats have an opportunity to get over .500 for the first time since July 1, 2021, thanks to last night’s dramatic comeback victory. A win today and a Mets loss tonight against the Rays would also move the Nats into third place in the National League East.

Jake Irvin makes his seventh start of the season, looking to follow up a strong outing Monday in Miami in which he gave up two runs in six innings. It was Irvin’s team-high third-quality start of the year, all three of which have come over his last four outings. He’ll continue to try to get deep in the game after completing six innings in four of his six starts.

Kevin Gausman starts for the Blue Jays. After finishing third in last year’s American League Cy Young Award voting, the right-hander has struggled to start this season, going 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.357 WHIP. His strikeout numbers have come down after leading the AL with an 11.5 K/9 rate in 2023 and posting only a 7.4 rate over his first six starts. He has, however, been pitching better of late, beating the Dodgers with seven innings of one-run ball in his last start.

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Defensive gem highlights Abrams' daily work in the field

Abrams fielding blue

CJ Abrams’ eyes lit up as he prepared to answer a question about his favorite play from Friday night’s game.

“Favorite was the infield in, play at home,” he said with a wide smile. “For sure.”

Hard to argue with his thinking on that one.

With the Nationals trailing 3-1 in the top of the fourth, the Blue Jays’ Ernie Clement tripled to right-center. Unable to concede any more runs at that point, Davey Martinez had the infield play in against George Springer, hoping Patrick Corbin might somehow get the perennial All-Star to hit the ball sharply on the ground to someone.

That someone was Abrams, who had only a split-second to react to Springer’s 107.1 mph scorcher to his left. He made the play, spun around and then fired a strike to Riley Adams, who tagged Clement at the plate for a huge out.

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García's blast off the bench lifts Nats back to .500 (updated)

garcia abrams dugout

Asked this afternoon about the new-look lineup he put together after his Nationals were held to two total runs the previous three days, Davey Martinez smirked.

"The definition of insanity, right?" the manager said. "Hey, I'm going to try to do something."

That new look – Jacob Young leading off, ahead of CJ Abrams – did produce the Nats’ first run of the night against the Blue Jays. But it was Martinez’s other big decision later in the evening that paid off the most.

With his offensively challenged team desperately needing runs in bunches, Martinez sent Luis García Jr. to the plate to pinch-hit for Trey Lipscomb with two on in the bottom of the seventh. Seconds later, García was circling the bases to flashing red stadium lights, his three-run homer giving the Nationals a lead they ultimately expanded into a much-needed, 9-3 victory over Toronto.

"It's hard to explain with words the emotions that run through you," said García, who is now batting .300 with an .800 OPS, via interpreter Octavio Martinez.

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Gallo ready to begin rehab, Gray ready to begin throwing off mound

Josiah Gray

The Nationals’ run-starved lineup should get a couple of veterans back in the coming days.

First baseman Joey Gallo is scheduled to begin what should be a brief rehab assignment Saturday at Single-A Fredericksburg. Outfielder Victor Robles, meanwhile, continues on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester and appears close to rejoining the big league club.

Gallo, out since April 27 with a sprained left shoulder, is ready to start playing in minor league games a week later. He has already taken swings in the cage and is now prepared to face live pitching in a game.

Gallo is eligible to come off the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, so if all goes well he should be activated in time for the Nationals’ series opener against the Orioles that night. The 30-year-old was off to a miserable start to his season, batting .122 with three homers, five RBIs and 43 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances, but his presence would still be a boost to a Nats lineup that has scored only two runs in its last three games.

Robles is set to play in his fourth rehab game tonight for Triple-A Rochester, batting leadoff and starting in center field. The 26-year-old suffered a hamstring strain April 3 and has been on the IL since. He’s 3-for-10 with a triple and two RBIs so far on rehab.

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Game 32 lineups: Nats vs. Blue Jays

senzel

The Nationals are back home after a 5-2 road trip that began with a four-game sweep in Miami but ended with only two runs scored in three games in Texas. It was, to be sure, a successful trip. But it wasn’t necessarily a satisfying trip, given the way things went against the Rangers.

But the boys are back home now for the next week, and they’ll continue this long stretch of interleague play with a couple of series against American League East foes. First up are the Blue Jays, who are off to a frustrating start for a club that has visions of playing in October.

Patrick Corbin will be challenged to hold a Toronto lineup that looks intimidating on paper in check. The lefty needs a quality start in the worst way. Though the Nats won his last start in Miami, he dug them into an early 7-0 hole. That’s not exactly a recipe for consistent success.

At the plate, the Nationals have to start putting together more quality at-bats, and it starts with the bats in the middle of their lineup. CJ Abrams, Nick Senzel and Luis García Jr. have been doing a nice job lately, but Joey Meneses, Jesse Winker and Keibert Ruiz are really struggling right now and have to get back on track for this team to score more runs.

Reminder: Tonight’s game is exclusively on Apple TV+, so unfortunately you’ll need a subscription to that streaming service in order to watch. The good news: Apple is offering free two-month trials that you can access by going to apple.co/mlbgift

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Friday morning Nats Q&A

Davey Martinez

35,000 FEET ABOVE AMERICA – Good morning, everyone! As you read this, I'm en route from Dallas to Washington, returning home following the Nationals' three-game series against the Rangers. It was a frustrating series in many ways, but it still included an impressive win and some very impressive pitching performances.

The Nats open a five-game homestand tonight, with a weekend series against the Blue Jays, then the first two-game installment of the Battle of the Beltways against the Orioles on Tuesday. If they can string together back-to-back wins, they'll finally get over that .500 hump that has proven so elusive.

Since I've got some time to kill while I'm in the air, let's conduct a Very Special Episode of the Q&A. Submit your questions in the comments section below, then check back for my responses. (If you don't see anything from me, either my flight was delayed or the WiFi wasn't working on the plane. Fingers crossed neither of those issues comes to fruition!) ...

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

Mitchell Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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Young won't dwell on end of streak, hopes to start new one

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ARLINGTON, Texas – This wasn’t how Jacob Young envisioned the streak coming to an end. If he was finally going to be thrown out trying to steal a base, he didn’t want it to be the result of an overslide.

“You’d rather get thrown out by six steps than have something like that happen,” the Nationals rookie said with a laugh. “But in my mind, it was going to end eventually. I feel like throughout (the streak), we were able to change a lot of games doing it. We’ll just keep on going and start a new one.”

Young had been a perfect 25-for-25 stealing bases since making his major league debut late last season. It was the fifth-longest streak to begin a career in major league history. And when he took off for second in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, he had good reason to believe he was about to be 26-for-26.

Young beat Rangers catcher Jonah Heim’s throw, his left hand reaching second base before shortstop Corey Seager applied the tag. But his momentum carried him past the bag, and perhaps with a little extra push by Seager’s glove, he came off the base with the tag still applied. Second base umpire Alan Porter called him out, and thus did the streak end.

Young had a brief conversation with Porter, asking about the possibility of a push. The umpire told him what Seager did was legal.

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Game 31 lineups: Nats at Rangers

Mitchell Parker

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Nationals have another chance to win a series this afternoon, another chance to climb over the .500 mark. To do that, they’re probably going to have to score more than one run. It certainly wasn’t enough in Tuesday’s opener. It somehow was enough in Wednesday’s game. The odds of it being enough again today are slim.

If nothing else, Davey Martinez would love to see his hitters work the count more against Nathan Eovaldi, who has issued 17 walks in 36 innings this season. The Nats haven’t drawn a free pass yet in this series. That’s not a sustainable formula for success.

They also have to hope for another strong outing by Mitchell Parker, who has been nothing short of remarkable in the first three starts of his career, allowing a total of three runs in 16 innings. He finally issued his first two walks over the weekend in Miami, and for the first time had to be pulled prior to the fifth inning because of a high pitch count. This will be a good challenge for the rookie left-hander, facing a Rangers lineup that may have been shut out Wednesday night but is still pretty potent.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at TEXAS RANGERS
Where:
Globe Life Park
Gametime: 2:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 88.7 FM (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS
SS CJ Abrams
DH Nick Senzel
2B Luis García Jr.
1B Joey Meneses
LF Jesse Winker
C Keibert Ruiz
RF Eddie Rosario
3B Ildemaro Vargas
CF Jacob Young

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Nats hang on for dear life during 1-0 win over Rangers (updated)

Trevor Williams

ARLINGTON, Texas – One-run games aren’t for the faint of heart. And by one-run games, we’re not talking about games with a one-run margin of victory. We’re talking about 1-0 games, where every moment is magnified, every pitch is crucial and any one mistake can spell doom.

That the Nationals somehow found a way to pull off a 1-0 win tonight over the Rangers was nothing short of remarkable. It required another highly effective performance from Trevor Williams, who twice stranded the bases loaded. It required the scratching across of a single run by a lineup that has done next to nothing in two nights at Globe Life Park. And it required some electric work from a bullpen that knew it had zero margin for error.

But that all somehow came together beautifully over the course of 2 hours, 11 minutes this evening, leaving Davey Martinez’s heart pounding but happy at the end of a taut ballgame.

"You know what," Martinez said, "it gets interesting at the end there. ... As I often say, we try to get one more than the other guys. And today, it came true."

The Nats are a .500 club once again, opening the month of May with a win over the defending World Series champs and now giving themselves another opportunity to get over the elusive hump in Thursday’s series finale.

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Struggling Rainey could be running out of chances

Tanner Rainey

ARLINGTON, Texas – One month into the season, the hierarchy of the Nationals bullpen is pretty clear. Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey are at the top of the list. Tanner Rainey is at the bottom.

That’s not how Davey Martinez hoped things would go. The Nats manager wanted to believe Rainey would recapture the late-inning role he held before tearing his elbow ligament in 2022, joining Finnegan and Harvey as his most-trusted arms at the end of games.

Rainey’s performance to date has made it clear he doesn’t deserve to pitch in situations of consequence. Right now, he’s clearly the team’s mop-up man.

The numbers aren’t pretty. Rainey has made 11 appearances and sports a 9.82 ERA and 2.818 WHIP. He has only eight strikeouts in 11 innings. He has allowed a staggering 32-of-63 batters faced to safely reach base.

And after three straight blowups in the last week, all of them coming late in games with lopsided scores, it’s fair to wonder where the Nationals turn from here with the 31-year-old right-hander.

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