Nationals manager Davey Martinez was happy his club mounted a late comeback to beat the Phillies 9-8 Wednesday, but is not pleased with how the team is playing baseball through its first five games.
“Oh, we needed it,” Martinez said. “And it’s kind of a bittersweet win. I’m not thrilled about how we’re playing, but I’m happy that the boys kept pushing. It’s a testament to them. But we gotta start playing better. We worked all spring on doing the little things, and we gotta make it happen.
“The baserunning stuff has gotta go away. The defense, every day, we gotta be clean. We’re going to be good, but we can’t play like that every day and expect to come back and win games. We can’t. They know that. I’m proud of them for playing the way they played, but we gotta start playing baseball every day. Limit the mistakes and start playing baseball.”
Jake Noll was able to induce a bases-loaded walk off of Phillies closer David Robertson in the bottom of the ninth for his first big-league RBI. The Nats have won both of their games this season in walk-off fashion.
“I was excited. I was trying to see a ball up, something I could hit,” Noll said. “He was down all the time. So was looking for something up in the zone. Just trying to put a good swing on it. He was struggling with his control. He couldn’t get the ball up. So I was trying to see a pitch up and he walked me.”
The Nationals optioned Noll to Triple-A Fresno shortly after the game to make room for Howie Kendrick as he comes off the injured list.
The win covered up an inconsistent game for the Nationals, however. A game in which the club blew a 6-2 lead and failed to add on to its early advantage with baserunning miscues and defensive lapses.
Juan Soto broke out of an 0-for-10 with three hits, including a three-run homer in the third that staked the Nats to the four-run lead. Soto said a conversation with the skipper led to him calming down a bit at the plate, and that contributed to Wednesday’s offensive outburst.
“He told me to be patient at the plate,” Soto said. “I’ve been swinging at a lot of balls and a lot of bad pitches. He told me, ‘Be patient and be you. Be like you’ve been since the first day last year, swinging at strikes, no balls, take your walk.’ “
Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman also homered for the Nats as they built their early advantage. But the Phillies roared back with two in fourth and then four runs in the eighth. The Nats bullpen faltered again, and has now allowed 14 runs on 16 hits in the eighth inning this season.
Trevor Rosenthal has been a part of the eighth-inning collapses. The reliever walked both batters he faced Wednesday, part of the Phillies’ four-run, game-changing rally. Rosenthal has now been unable to retire any of the seven batters he has faced so far this season. Martinez said the coaches will talk with Rosenthal and try to work out his issues on the mound.
“We gotta sit down and just kind of ... I mean, the ball’s coming out good,” Martinez said. “He’s a high-energy guy. We gotta figure out a way to calm him down a little bit. Every time I go get the ball, he doesn’t want to come out. He wants to keep going and keep going. But I’m not going to give up on him, that’s for sure. We need him. If we’re going to do this, we need Rosenthal.”
Rosenthal agrees he has the stuff, but believes right now he’s trying to be too precise.
“I think I’m just trying to be too perfect,” Rosenthal said. “Just making the perfect pitch at the perfect time in the perfect spot. I think that’s more of the issue.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating just cause of the results. Working with the bullpen, I don’t want to put other guys in tough spots. But we were able to come back and win the game, so that’s been a relief, for sure.
“I feel very optimistic and frustrated at the same time because I feel so good. I feel like I’m so close and just kind of need to get the wheels spinning a bit and take off. It’s a little bit of frustration, but also I’m encouraged by how I feel.”
Starter Aníbal Sánchez lasted four innings but left with a bruised right hip flexor after getting hit with a comebacker off the bat of Andrew McCutchen in the third. Sánchez stayed in the game and managed to come out for the fifth, but then the muscles in his hip tightened up on him and he had to leave the game.
“I got a pretty good line drive on my right leg,” Sanchez said. “And in the fifth inning, when I came out to throw the last pitch for the warming up, I couldn’t push at all, so I’d just rather stop right there.”
Sánchez does not believe the bruise will prevent him from making his next start.
“The way that I get out is really disappointing, but in the end it’s nothing really (bad),” Sánchez said. “So I think really recover for two days and I am going to be fine in five days.”
A win is important, but Martinez knows the Nationals must play smarter and cleaner baseball to succeed in the division as they head to New York for another battle with the Mets. Martinez said he will speak with the team before it faces off against the Mets on Thursday afternoon.
“There will be talk. We’ll have conversations,” Martinez said. “The bullpen, that’s part of it. You saw what happened in the ninth inning. So we’ll address that. We’ll fix that. I know those guys will come around. But the little nuances of the game. The baserunning, getting back-picked on a bunt, not getting a bunt down. Those little things, we gotta get better. We gotta get better.”