Two homers not nearly enough for Nats in fifth straight loss (updated)

Jesse Winker

PHILADELPHIA – For the first time in a week, the Nationals hit a ball out of the park. Two of them, as a matter of fact. It was a welcome sight for a power-starved, run-starved lineup.

Then again, it doesn’t matter much when those two long-awaited home runs proved to be your only hits of the day until the eighth inning. Even more so when your pitching staff falls apart during the critical two-inning stretch that loomed large in what wound up a lopsided 11-5 loss to the Phillies.

Eddie Rosario and Jesse Winker’s blasts off Aaron Nola weren’t nearly enough for the Nats, who saw the game come undone in the fifth and sixth innings and wound up dropping their fifth straight game in the process.

Runs have been in short supply during the losing streak, the Nationals scoring a grand total of 10 in these five games. Even so, they were still in prime to position to win each of the previous four games, not to mention every other game on this 2-7 trip, thanks to stellar pitching that kept every game close.

"I feel like we've played a ton of games on the road, and they've all been really close," said Winker, whose team indeed has played far more games on the road (28) than at home (17). "We ran into Boston, who I think has one of the best ERAs in baseball right now. Then we ran into Chicago, who is playing really well and pitched lights out. And then you come to Philly, and they have the best record in baseball. It was nine really good baseball games. You hang your hat on that, then you get back home tomorrow and get some home cooking and give it hell."

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Irvin's career day spoiled by late Red Sox rally in loss (updated)

Jake Irvin

BOSTON – The Nationals returned to Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon in search of a series win over the Red Sox. A victory today would lock up their second series win in their last three and third in their last five. Plus, it would put them two games over .500 for the first time since June 30, 2021.

But despite Jake Irvin pitching one of the best starts of his career, a late Red Sox rally buried the Nats in a 4-2 loss.

Robert Garcia entered the eighth inning of a 2-2 game looking to keep the game tied. Pinch-hitter Rob Refsnyder hit a one-out infield single that dribbled up the third base line and never went foul. Garcia got pinch-hitter Romy Gonzalez to hit a ground ball to CJ Abrams, but the young shortstop tried to turn the double play by himself and threw the ball into the Red Sox dugout.

With Gonzalez on second, the Nats intentionally walked the right-handed Tyler O’Neill to bring up the lefty Rafael Devers, who proceeded to end a seven-pitch battle with a two-run double to left to send the 30,995 fans in Boston into a frenzy.

“Tried to throw a slider first pitch and see if I can get him to swing. It wasn't a great one, it moved away," Garcia said after the game. "I fell down 2-0, which was fine. I got right back in the count, evened it out 2-2. I threw a high fastball and he looked very uncomfortable. Surprised, kind of taken aback about, probably, the velo and the way it was thrown. So I figured that we're gonna go there. Because that's my best pitch. Fastball has been my best pitch, we're going right after him in that situation. I didn't execute my location and he beat my best pitch today.”

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Nats clutch with two outs in win over Red Sox (updated)

lipscomb sliding home gray

BOSTON – The Nationals arrived at Fenway Park with a rough history in the landmark ballpark.

Entering tonight’s opener of a three-game series, they were 15-24 all-time against the Red Sox and 5-13 at Fenway.

But the 2024 Nationals do not care much for history. They came to face a streaky Red Sox team with a similar record as their third straight American League East opponent. And they came away victorious.

The Nationals beat the Red Sox 5-1 to get back over .500 on a cold 51-degree Boston evening in front of an announced crowd of 31,313 fans. And they did so with some nifty two-out hitting and gutsy pitching, including from starter Patrick Corbin.

Facing right-hander Tanner Houck, who entered tonight’s start with a 1.99 ERA and 0.971 WHIP over his first seven outings, the Nats were able to put pressure on him with two outs in the early innings.

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Behind Williams' latest effort, Nats finally clear .500 hump (updated)

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Three times in the last week, the Nationals put themselves in a position to get over a hump that for three years now had felt more daunting than the October hurdle they waited years to clear. They kept getting themselves to the .500 mark. They could not get themselves over it.

And then on attempt No. 4 tonight, they finally did it. The Nationals, for the first time since July 1, 2021, are a winning baseball team.

All it took? A 3-0 shutout victory over the Orioles, with Trevor Williams outdueling Corbin Burnes, the lineup manufacturing a few runs and the bullpen continuing its lights-out ways.

Yes, the Nats are 18-17, over the .500 hump at last. And happy not to have to talk about that longstanding negative fact anymore.

"I think it's the mentality that nobody sees us coming," closer Kyle Finnegan said. "We're kind of lurking in the shadows. And we know how good we are. Maybe the league will start to take notice." 

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Martinez on decision to DFA Barnes, stick with Rainey

rainey and adams

The Nationals made an expected roster move in the bullpen this morning, returning left-hander Robert Garcia from his rehab assignment and reinstating him from the injured list after a bout with influenza.

Garcia, 27, returns after missing 14 games. In one rehab appearance with Single-A Fredericksburg over the weekend, he struck out four without allowing a baserunner in two innings. Before landing on the IL, Garcia was tied for ninth among National League relievers with 13 strikeouts, achieving that mark in just 8 ⅓ innings. He also stranded all five runners he inherited this season.

He has been the only left-handed reliever manager Davey Martinez has used this season, having allowed just three extra base hits to lefty hitters in 68 career plate appearances.

The surprising part of the move was the decision to designate Matt Barnes for assignment to clear a spot on both the active and 40-man rosters.

“We needed to get Robert back. It was tough, but we definitely need a lefty,” Martinez said ahead of the Beltway Series opener against the Orioles. “I'd like to have more than one, but one right now will be good enough. But it was a tough call. Matty was such a professional. He's done it for a long time now. His velo just wasn't coming back like we thought it would. So we had to make a tough decision. I wished him all the best. We'll see where he ends up.”

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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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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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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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Nats make bullpen switch with Garcia ill, DFA utility man Alu

Jacob Barnes white

The Nationals haven’t completely overcome the flu bug that has taken down several corners of the clubhouse the last two weeks: They had to place another ill player on the injured list today because of it.

Reliever Robert Garcia became the latest victim, placed on the 15-day IL with influenza prior to tonight’s series opener against the Dodgers. The club purchased the contract of right-hander Jacob Barnes from Triple-A Rochester to fill the bullpen vacancy and designated minor league infielder Jake Alu for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.

Garcia first was afflicted with the virus more than a week ago and was unable to pitch for several days during the Nationals’ West Coast trip. The left-hander did come back to appear three times in a four-game span at the end of the week but did not look himself, retiring only one of the seven Astros batters he faced Friday and Saturday, his fastball velocity down from 95-96 mph to 92-93 mph.

“We noticed his velo was way down, and he was trying to pitch through it,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I don’t want him to get hurt, so we’re going to take care of him.”

Garcia, whose transaction was backdated two days, joins Keibert Ruiz on the IL with the flu, but the catcher is healthy again and nearly ready to return. Ruiz, who lost 18-to-20 pounds while sick, begins what should be a brief rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg tonight and should be activated later this week.

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Davies roughed up in last scheduled start of spring

Zach Davies Dbacks red away

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Zach Davies has been doing this long enough to have real perspective. The 31-year-old right-hander is one of the most introspective players in Nationals camp this spring, understanding that the big picture matters but so does his most recent performance.

And his most recent performance was hard to ignore. For all the wrong reasons.

In his last scheduled start of the spring, Davies was roughed up by the Cardinals during a 13-4 trouncing, unable to get himself out of a seven-run top of the fourth that required 40 pitches on his part.

If this happened any of the previous springs, when Davies was assured a spot in his team’s Opening Day rotation, it wouldn’t have carried much weight. But in this spring, with Davies attempting to make the club off a minor league contract, it stood out like a sore thumb.

“I was extremely pleased with everything, except for the last inning that I pitched,” he said. “It’s unfortunate being in this position. Your last start of spring you don’t really have any more chances to show them what you have. All I can do is be prepared for whatever’s next.”

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Strong spring showings create some tough pitching decisions

Robert Garcia city connect jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training stats must be taken with more than a grain of salt. Perhaps a full bucket of salt.

Now, having said that, has anyone out there noticed how well the Nationals have pitched this spring?

Wednesday’s 2-1 exhibition victory over the Marlins was merely the latest example. That came on the heels of a 4-1 victory over the Mets. Combine the pitching totals from those two games and the Nats have surrendered a grand total of two runs on six hits, walking only three while striking out 14.

And this has been going on for 2 1/2 weeks now. Eighteen games into their Grapefruit League schedule, the Nationals rank second in the majors in ERA (3.51), WHIP (1.164) and opponents’ batting average (.224), third in walks per nine innings (3.0), fourth in home runs surrendered per nine innings (0.68) and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.1).

There’s a lot to like about the way the entire staff has pitched to date, especially a number of guys who are competing for spots on the Opening Day roster.

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Nats' lefty relief options much improved from a year ago

Jose Ferrer

The Nationals opened the 2023 season with one left-hander in their bullpen: Anthony Banda. Not necessarily because Banda had a strong track record or performed well in spring training. But because they felt they needed a lefty in their Opening Day bullpen.

One month later, Banda and his 6.43 ERA were designated for assignment. And the Nats spent the next seven weeks functioning with nothing but right-handed relievers.

By late June, Joe La Sorsa had been claimed off waivers from the Rays and called up to the majors, followed soon thereafter by homegrown prospect Jose A. Ferrer. And on Aug. 1, the team claimed Robert Garcia off waivers from the Marlins, giving it three lefty relievers for most of the rest of the season.

What had been a huge void in the organization now appears to be in much better shape. Garcia and Ferrer each performed well at times and will be in the mix for spots in this year’s Opening Day bullpen. La Sorsa was more erratic and was DFA’d this offseason, though he remains in the organization and will be at spring training as a non-roster invitee.

And now the Nationals are adding another potential left-handed option to their bullpen plans after signing veteran Richard Bleier to a minor-league deal Thursday evening.

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Rainey makes long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery

Tanner Rainey Keibert Ruiz hug blue

ATLANTA – The symmetry wasn’t lost on Tanner Rainey.

As he stood at his locker at Truist Park, a member of the Nationals’ active roster for the first time in 14 months, the right-hander couldn’t help but think about the fact he was in this exact same location the last time he was a member of the active roster, before he tore his elbow ligament, before he required Tommy John surgery.

When manager Davey Martinez told him earlier this week he was going to come off the 60-day injured list and make his long-awaited return for the final series of the season, Rainey thought about the full-circle nature of his story.

“I kind of had a feeling,” he said. “I had spoken to Davey, and he told me that it was possibly for this trip, which is kind of weird. This was my last outing last year, as well. In July, I threw two innings here and that was the last outing. To return here, it’s a little weird.”

Weird, but joyous as well. It’s been a long road back for Rainey, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game since those two scoreless innings against the Braves on July 10, 2022. Three days later, he went on the IL. A few weeks after that, he had surgery to replace the torn elbow ligament.

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Nats' shutout woes return; Ruiz, Garcia snuff out steal of home

Ruiz tags Henderson

BALTIMORE – The Nationals, believe it or not, haven’t been shut out often this season. Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to the Orioles was only their eighth shutout loss this year. Only seven major league clubs have failed to score fewer times in 2023.

There are two odd facts about the Nats’ shutouts, though. They’ve all come in April, August or September. And three of them have now come at the hands of the Orioles.

The Nationals were shut out four times in the season’s first 18 games, including back-to-back times by Baltimore on South Capitol Street. One of those was a 1-0 loss to Dean Kremer. The other was a 4-0 loss to Kyle Bradish.

Wouldn’t you know Tuesday’s game was a 1-0 loss to Bradish, who tossed the first eight innings before handing over the ninth to closer Yennier Cano.

Tuesday also was the Nats’ fourth shutout loss in their last 43 games, these recent offensive struggles coming after a long streak in which they always scored runs. They went 97 games from mid-April to early-August without ever being shut out.

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Nats rally in 10th but fall apart in 11th en route to loss (updated)

Travis Blankenhorn cherry blossoms

The Nationals’ winning month of August was defined by success late in games, both at the plate by an opportunistic lineup and on the mound by a lockdown bullpen.

On the first night of September, they showed it might be tough to keep that going through the season's final month.

Despite rallying to tie the game in the bottom of the 10th, the Nationals couldn't overcome an ugly top of the 11th and wound up on the wrong end of an 8-5 loss to the Marlins, suddenly their fifth loss in six days.

Robert Garcia and Mason Thompson, the Nats' fifth and sixth relievers of the night, combined to allow those four decisive runs in the 11th, the first of those scoring in the form of the automatic runner, the others scoring in more conventional fashion.

Garcia, returning to the mound after a two-inning, 28-pitch appearance Thursday night, surrendered three straight singles to open the inning. Thompson then replaced him and immediately served up a two-run homer to Garrett Hampson to cap the rally and make it all the more difficult for the Nationals to bounce back again in the bottom of the inning.

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Revenge games for Adon and Garcia in Miami

adon celebrates blue

MIAMI – Last night’s 7-4 victory over the Marlins was a payback win for the Nationals. It was their first win over their National League East rivals this season in their seventh attempt. It was just their fifth win against the Fish and just their third at loanDepot Park since the start of last year. And it helped catapult them out of the division basement with a one-game lead over the Mets.

But it was also a revenge game for two Nationals pitchers, both of whom had past demons to conquer in Miami.

The first was Joan Adon, the 25-year-old right-hander making his fourth start since rejoining the Nats rotation at the beginning of the month.

Adon entered last night’s start with an 0-2 record, 10.57 ERA and 1.826 WHIP in two career starts against the Marlins, both coming in that very ballpark. Those numbers are inflated by the eight runs on seven hits and two walks he allowed in three innings during a June 7 start last year.

He was optioned to Triple-A Rochester after that rough outing and only made two more major league starts the rest of the 2022 season, both in emergency situations.

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Nats finally beat Fish behind Adon's no-hit bid (updated)

Joan Adon

MIAMI – It has been 11 months to the day since the Nationals last won at loanDepot Park. It’s also been that long since the Nationals last beat the Marlins after starting this season 0-6 against their division rivals.

Those streaks came to an end tonight as the Nats finally beat the Fish 7-4 in front of 12,409 fans.

It has been 20 days since Joan Adon took a perfect game into the sixth inning against the Reds in Cincinnati, a two-out single breaking up the perfecto bid and leading to three runs against the young right-hander in an otherwise incredible return to the rotation.

After allowing eight runs in seven innings over his last two starts, Adon recaptured that Cincy magic in South Beach, this time by taking a no-hit bid into the sixth inning.

“Man, his fastball was good," manager Davey Martinez said of Adon after the game. "His breaking ball was good. His changeup. His changeup was really, really good today and made all the other pitches that much better. He attacked the zone and when he does that, he's really effective. He pitched really well for us and we were able to get a win.”

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Nats score early, clamp down late to sweep Reds (updated)

lane thomas happy grey

CINCINNATI – In order to sweep the Reds and win for the 11th time in their last 16 games overall, the Nationals merely needed to hit back-to-back homers on the first two pitches of the afternoon, then entrust an overworked, unproven, still-effective bullpen to hang on in one of baseball’s toughest pitchers’ parks.

When things are going your way, things are going your way. And they are most certainly going the Nats’ way right now.

Today’s 6-3 victory capped off an impressive weekend sweep at Great American Ball Park by an upstart visiting ballclub that made up for the sweep it suffered at the hands of the Reds last month in D.C. And it continued this club’s best sustained stretch in more than two years.

Owners of an 11-5 record since July 21, with sweeps of the Giants and Reds and a series win over the Brewers, the Nationals are giving themselves and their fans more reason to be optimistic than at any previous moment since the roster teardown and franchise rebuild began in July 2021. At 49-63 overall, they’re now on a 71-win pace that would represent a healthy 16-game improvement from last season’s 107-loss nadir.

"It's a long season. To do that consistently is hard," right fielder Lane Thomas told reporters afterward. "Otherwise, a lot of teams would do it. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing, and control what we can control. I think we do good things when we do that."

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Nats get a look at another lefty with latest bullpen move

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The Nationals made another change to their ever-changing bullpen today, adding recently acquired left-hander Robert Garcia to the mix and optioning right-hander Hobie Harris to Triple-A Rochester.

Garcia was just claimed off waivers from the Marlins on Tuesday, a lower-profile transaction on trade deadline day that nevertheless could have some short-term impact for a Nats club that has been desperately trying to find quality lefties for its bullpen all season.

Garcia, 27, made his major league for Miami last month, pitching one-third of a scoreless inning against the Orioles, after posting a 2.85 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 41 innings for Triple-A Jacksonville. He wound up getting caught up in a roster crunch as the surprising Marlins became buyers at the trade deadline, and the Nats jumped in and claimed him.

“Terrific Triple-A season so far,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “A lefty that has two good pitches and has shown a propensity to strike guys out. Tough left-on-left. And a guy we think will add to a deficiency of our minor league system.”

Originally a 15th round pick of the Royals in 2017, Garcia becomes the third left-hander in a Nationals bullpen that for much of this season had none. Whether he, Jose A. Ferrer or Joe La Sorsa sticks remains to be seen, but there’s been a concerted effort to try to address that obvious area of need.

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Nats recall Alu from Rochester, claim Garcia from Marlins (plus minors notes)

Jake Alu cherry

We are just minutes before the trade deadline, and although the Nationals have made a few roster moves this afternoon, none of them have been in the form of a trade like last night’s deal of Jeimer Candelario to the Cubs for two prospects.

This afternoon the Nats announced they recalled infielder Jake Alu from Triple-A Rochester to take Candelario’s spot on the active roster.

“I was excited,” Alu said back in the Nats clubhouse. “I kind of understood the scenario of everything. Like I said, I was playing baseball just one day at a time and kind of just staying focused as much as I could. That's kind of how I went about it.”

This marks Alu’s fourth major league stint this season. He has appeared in five games, going 3-for-14 (.214) with one walk and one stolen base with the Nats.

On the farm, Alu, 26, has been having another strong season. He's tied for first among Nationals farmhands with 22 doubles and ranks in the system in hits (third, 90), runs (fifth, 48), batting average (sixth, .293), OPS (seventh, .777), RBIs (tied for seventh, 43), slugging percentage (eighth, .420) extra-base hits (eighth, 28) and on-base percentage (10th, .357).

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