CINCINNATI – Wherever the Nationals go, the attention always focuses on their big-name players. Your Juan Sotos, Josh Bells, Nelson Cruzes, Josiah Grays, Patrick Corbins, etc.
While all of those stars contributed to the Nats’ three wins over the Reds this weekend, some unsung heroes played a significant role as well.
Not all of them got their fair share of praise over the last three days, partially my own fault for not incorporating them more. So let’s take some time to give them their time in the spotlight.
Lane Thomas is an obvious one, though he did get his fair share after hitting three home runs on Friday night. Those jump off the page, obviously, but he did a lot more this weekend.
Thomas went 7-for-14 with three home runs, a double, four RBIs, a walk and five runs scored in the three games he played in Cincinnati, once again showing his uncanny ability to produce in National League Central ballparks. All along the way, he played perfect defense in the outfield, including a nice sliding catch Saturday afternoon.
Luis García showed why he’s one of the best - if not the best - hitting prospects in the Nationals system. Over the last three games, he went 6-for-12 with two doubles, five RBIs and a run scored. He drove in a game-tying run in the eighth inning, and what proved to be the winning runs in the ninth inning of Saturday’s 10-8 win.
There were some defensive hiccups for the young shortstop, who is still adjusting to the position every single day. He committed his first two errors in the majors this season, with one apiece Thursday and Friday. But he also showed flashes of the athleticism he brings to the infield by making some nice sliding stops and strong throws across the diamond, whether he got the runner or not.
“What I liked about him, I know he's a little iffy there with his throws, he's worked on it,” manager Davey Martinez said of García’s defense after Sunday’s win. “He's been working on it every day, and his throws were a lot better today.”
Maikel Franco joined García in producing offense from the bottom of the lineup. Now riding a seven-game hitting streak, Franco went 7-for-17 (.412) with four RBIs and four runs scored over the four games in Cincinnati. He scored off each of García’s clutch hits while also driving in a go-ahead run on Saturday, and his solo homer proved to be the difference in Sunday’s 5-4 win.
“Franco has been, like I said, he's been awesome all year long,” Martinez said after Saturday’s win. “He's drove in some big runs for us.”
On the pitching side, Paolo Espino, not given many chances to pitch in high-leverage situations this year, tossed an important scoreless sixth inning Saturday on 13 pitches and two strikeouts to keep it a 7-3 game. The Nats, of course, would go on to win 10-8.
Victor Arano and Erasmo Ramirez both bounced back Sunday after each allowed three runs in earlier appearances in this series. With Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan each having pitched in three of the previous four days, Arano and Ramirez were called upon for setup duty.
Arano pitched one inning plus while only charged with a run after he hurt himself fielding a dribbler in the top of the eighth inning. The Nats aren’t sure whether he hurt his hamstring or knee, so they’ll wait for his MRI before they know more. But he went down as a hero with the important outs he did record.
In came Ramirez to get the game to the ninth with the Nats still up by two. With two runners on with no outs against Joey Votto, the right-hander got a double-play ball and got out of the inning after an RBI single and flyout.
Finally, there was Steve Cishek, who took over closing duties Sunday after Tanner Rainey pitched in back-to-back games on 41 pitches, including 27 on Saturday.
Cishek hasn’t had the type of year many expected when he signed with the Nationals. The veteran has a 4.22 ERA and 1.500 WHIP in 24 appearances. But he sealed the win yesterday for his first save as a National and now has a 1.29 ERA over his last seven outings.
“Our bullpen was a little beat up,” Martinez said Sunday. “As you can see, we closed with Cishek, but the bullpen did a great job.”
There you have it. Your unsung heroes for the Nats’ three wins in The Queen City.
Star power is great, sure. But it’s the role players that really help teams win close games.
Said Martinez: “The boys played well.”