LOS ANGELES - The biggest element of the Nationals offense, one the team has been unable to consistently demonstrate for close to 40 games, is a power-hitting bat day in and day out.
Juan Soto showed what he could do with the bat in 2018. Anthony Rendon raced out to a hot start this season but was then slowed by the hit by pitch on his elbow in Miami on April 20. Matt Adams has shown flashes of his “Big City” bat, but the injury bug bit this slugger as well courtesy a left shoulder strain.
So, there’s a reason why manager Davey Martinez put Howie Kendrick in the cleanup spot for the Nats Thursday and the veteran hitter will certainly get that chance again: because he can deliver the power extra-base hit in the clutch.
With one out and two men on in the top of the first inning in game one against Dodgers starter Rich Hill, Kendrick launched a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall for a three-run shot. His sixth homer of the season was a no doubt line drive that set the tone for the Nats when they desperately needed to make a statement. The homer gave the Nationals an early 3-0 lead that would eventually grow to 6-0. Kendrick finished the night with two hits and four RBIs. The Nats won 6-0 in the series opener.
“He’s been great,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing for us is to keep him healthy but that’s how he’s done (it) for a long time and has played really well. He picked us up today big time.”
Kendrick has been hot in his last 13 games, hitting .311 (14-for-45) with three homers and eight RBIs. As with any consistent hitter, Kendrick focuses on his approach and repeating those mechanics every at-bat.
“I just try to have the same mindset that I have every year,” Kendrick said. “Just trying to hit the ball hard. Just put in my normal work and put the barrel to the ball, and I just try to keep it that simple. I don’t try to overthink anything and you’re going to have some really good days, and you’re going to have bad games, I just try to take them in stride. Let it be what it is.”
* More on winning pitcher Patrick Corbin mixing his fastball and slider to record eight strikeouts and shutout the Dodgers for seven innings. Catcher Yan Gomes said he did the smart thing when dealing with a pitcher like Corbin who had plus stuff and his slider is forcing weak swings.
“It was one of those things where you just kind of let him do his thing. He’s faced these guys a ton of times,” Gomes said. “His sinker was really (outstanding) ... guys weren’t really able to put a good swing on it so we kept getting ahead on guys.
“He goes to his bread and butter whenever he can. Getting ahead was really good. Not giving in to some hitters ... some of those at-bats to (Cody) Bellinger, I tried to get him to chase. He was tremendous. Every time we got into trouble he made the pitch and got some big plays out of it.”
Corbin established the inside of the plate and then he was able to bring his fastball and hitters could not make the adjustments quick enough.
“I like to throw to both sides of the plate, something I’ve always done so definitely do it to righties quite a bit,” Corbin noted. “Been mixing my slider there too just to show them something different. Me and Yan today, we were in a great rhythm there, just seemed like everything called I was thinking the same thing. So, it’s always fun to go out there make quality pitches and see results.”
Just look at Dodgers second baseman Max Muncy, who struck out three times against Corbin. Muncy saw two sliders and fastball in the second inning and was the victim of a called third strike. It his second at-bat, Muncy saw two sliders, two fastballs and then anther slider for a swinging strike three. Then in the bottom of the sixth inning, it was slider, three fastballs and a slider to strike him out again.
“When I guy like that has a slider like that you want to establish the inside part of the plate so they have to decide which pitch it is,” Gomes said. “He was getting a lot of calls in there, getting ahead with it and putting guys away with it too.”
With the win, Corbin is now 5-9 with a 3.36 ERA in 19 starts (21 games) against the Dodgers.
* So much has been made when the Nationals struggled during their recent losing streak as to whether or not their most recent loss was the worst they had endured. Could Thursday’s series opening win have the opposite effect? Can a solid shutout win where the team pitched well, got the big hits, enjoyed more than one scoring rally and watched as the first place team they face commit three errors themselves, be the first step of a new, more positive streak of their own?
“Oh, it’s big,” said Gomes of the win. “It’s one of those tough losing streaks but we’re passed it now. It’s one of those things where a lot of teams are going to go through it, nobody is going to feel bad for us and we just got to be able to put it behind (us) and get out there and play aggressive. That’s kind of how we did (it). Howie got a big hit and then Corbin put it on his back to just get us through seven and then we decided to tack on some more runs which are big (against) a good team like the Dodgers.”
Kendrick’s three-run shot in the top of the first inning quieted a rambunctious crowd of 42,851 at Dodgers Stadium after the Dodgers had just swept the Braves out of town.
“You’re going to have times when you’re not as confident,” Kendrick said. “We all go through it. And sometimes as a team you lose that a little bit. But I think the more fun we have and the more we just go out and be carefree, I think that confidence comes back. And you know, when you’re having fun, everything is usually going pretty smoothly and tonight I felt like a lot of guys were a lot more loose. And Corbin, going out and doing what he did tonight, it gave us a chance to add a few more runs and we capitalized tonight with runners on, so I think that was a big difference too.”