HOUSTON - For the first time in a while, Davey Martinez had a lineup decision to make today. With Howie Kendrick serving as designated hitter for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, the Nationals manager needed to choose between AsdrÃºbal Cabrera or Brian Dozier to start at second base.
He chose Cabrera, opting for a more consistently productive bat over a more consistently effective defensive player.
"I like the left-handed bat, obviously today," Martinez said. "And Cabrera's had some big hits for us. In the postseason, he didn't play much. But he did hit the ball really well. So I wanted to get his bat in the lineup."
Cabrera hasn't enjoyed much success in his career against Astros Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole; he's 2-for-17 with three RBIs and six strikeouts. But the 33-year-old was an instrumental part of the Nationals' daily lineup for much of August and September, hitting .323 with a .404 on-base percentage, a .969 OPS and 40 RBIs in 38 games played following his acquisition.
"Since we got him, he's been unbelievable," Martinez said. "I had a conversation with him when he got here. I told him how we were going to utilize him. Never played first base before. I told him that he might have to play some first base. He said: 'Give me a day to go out there and work on it.' And he went out there with (infield coach) Tim Bogar, and he looked like a natural. We stuck him out there, he was good. Put him in the middle of our lineup, drove in some big runs for us. Really big runs for us down the stretch."
Given his strong career numbers versus Justin Verlander (21-for-76, six doubles, three homers, 11 RBIs, .819 OPS), it seems a safe bet that Cabrera will again be in the lineup Wednesday night for Game 2.
Dozier, who hit .238 with 20 homers and a .771 OPS during the regular season but is 0-for-6 in the postseason, will again be available off the bench to pinch-hit or take over defensively if the Nationals hold a late lead.
Ross wasn't active for any previous round this postseason. He hasn't pitched since Sept. 29. And he hasn't pitched in relief since July 27, at which point the Nationals decided he better suited to convert back into a starter. But Martinez liked his ability to pitch on back-to-back days over Austin Voth, who despite being active throughout the postseason to date has not pitched in a game.
"I feel like he can do that at this point," Martinez said of Ross. "Voth, I don't really know. If I use him one day, he might not be able to pitch back-to-back. I think in this series, our bullpen usage is going to be important. And I was trying to put together a bullpen that can actually throw multiple innings, or get four or five outs if they have to."
Though he hasn't pitched in an actual game this month, Ross has been throwing and faced live hitters a couple of times during the Nationals' six-day layoff before the World Series.
Suero, meanwhile, returns to the active roster after pitching once in the National League Division Series against the Dodgers (he retired only one of three batters faced). The right-hander was on the roster for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals, but didn't pitch and then was replaced the following day by Daniel Hudson, who returned from paternity leave.
Update: Given the star-studded pitching matchup to begin this series, what would you expect happened right out of the chute? Yep, lots of offense. Trea Turner led off the game with an infield single and then stole second base (the Nats' first of the postseason) to give his teammates a golden opportunity to jump on Cole. But then Adam Eaton popped up a bunt (not the first time he's done that this postseason) and Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto struck out on a combined seven pitches. Max Scherzer then took the mound and immediately got into trouble with a leadoff walk and a subsequent single. Scherzer was one strike away from getting out of the jam, but Yuli Gurriel got on top of a 1-2 fastball up and out of the zone and hammered it off the left field wall for a two-run double to put the Astros up 2-0. Ryan Zimmerman, though, made the most of his first career World Series at-bat, launching a Cole fastball to center for a solo homer in the top of the second to put the Nationals on the board. It's 2-1 Houston after two innings, and the big concern for the Nats is that Scherzer has already thrown 48 pitches.
Update II: Soto, meet train tracks. Train tracks, meet Soto. I mean, what an opposite-field blast by the 20-year-old off Cole to tie this game in the top of the fourth. The Nationals have taken some pretty good swings against the Astros ace tonight. So far, that's only resulted in two runs, both on solo homers. Speaking of only two runs, Scherzer has somehow managed to get through the fourth with only those two early runs scoring off him. But he's had to work for it. Really hard. He has thrown 96 pitches already, Houston's batters doing an excellent job laying off stuff down and away. To his credit, Scherzer has made big pitches to get out of jams. But he's now looking at a five-inning start, at best, tonight. That will create an interesting bullpen decision for Martinez in what is now a 2-2 game.
Update III: Soto is a man among ... uh, older men. What a World Series debut for the 20-year-old. As if the opposite-field homer onto the train tracks wasn't enough, he has now added a two-out, two-run double off the left field wall to cap a three-run top of the fifth and give the Nationals a 5-2 lead. That came after Eaton sent an RBI single to right to put the Nats on top for the first time. And just when he needed it, Scherzer responded to the three-run lead with his first 1-2-3 inning of the night. (The first by either team, actually.) He's at 112 pitches, and with Patrick Corbin warming in the 'pen, that might be it for Max tonight. All things considered, a job well done. It'll be up to the bullpen now.
Update IV: Corbin worked around a one-out single by Yordan Alvarez for pitch a scoreless sixth and Tanner Rainey came in to start the seventh. But George Springer led off with a homer to center. Rainey then issued a pair of walks before Hudson relieved. He got Gurriel to pop out to second and gave up an infield single to Carlos Correa that loaded the bases before fanning Alvarez swinging to preserve a 5-3 lead.
Update V: In the eighth, pinch-hitter Michael Tucker led off with a single to center and advanced to second on a fly ball to center by Aledmys DÃaz, with Victor Robles curiously throwing behind the runner. Springer got the Astros within a run with a double off the wall in right. Hudson got Altuve to sky to right and Martinez called for Sean Doolittle, who got Michael Brantley to line out to left. We head to the ninth with the Nats ahead 5-4.
Update VI: Doolittle worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record the save in a 5-4 Nationals win. The Nats lead the best-of-seven series, one game to none. Game 2 is tomorrow night in Houston.