It took two months of agonizing starts and stops, encouraging moments followed by devastating meltdowns, series with contenders and series with also-rans. But this weekend it finally happened: The Nationals won three games in a row.
It’s a modest achievement, to be sure. But the Nationals were the only team in the majors that had yet to win back-to-back-to-back games in 2019. And though it happened against the worst-in-baseball Marlins, that matters not a bit to a ballclub that simply needs to win every game it can at this point, elite opponent or not.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’m a bad loser. Really. I just don’t show it to people,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I don’t like losing. I don’t. So when we win, it’s gratifying.”
Today’s 9-6 win over Miami was shaping up to be the most lopsided of the Nationals’ three wins (until Javy Guerra gave up a two-run homer in the eighth and reliever James Bourque gave up four runs in the ninth in his major league debut to make it a little more interesting). It came on the heels of a wild and often ugly 12-10 victory Friday night, then a 5-0 shutout by Patrick Corbin on Saturday afternoon.
This one featured another impressive start by Erick Fedde and a host of productive at-bats from the entire lineup on a steamy late-May afternoon that included a sudden cloudburst in the sixth inning.
Fedde had already impressed in his first start of the season last week, limiting the Mets to one run over five innings. The only concern was his lack of stamina; he threw only 61 pitches before revealing he was fatigued. So the Nationals hoped for more out of him today.
They got more pitches out of Fedde, 83 to be exact. But they still only got five innings because he was less efficient against the Marlins than he was against the Mets.
“I think we have a good progression going,” the right-hander said. “I think I got somewhere in the 80s today. Just going to keep that going and hopefully here in the next start or two, I’ll be back to full-fledged (and) they can let me go as long as I can.”
Nonetheless, that’s a slight nitpick of an otherwise impressive performance by the right-hander, who is making a strong case he deserves to remain in the rotation even after Aníbal Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson return from the injured list.
“When we talk to him, we let him know when he’s going to pitch,” Martinez said. “And then we tell him: Stick to the plan. He’s on a good routine right now. Don’t worry about the future. Just worry about the next game. He’s pitching really good right now, so let’s just keep him going.”
Fedde has done a better job getting ahead of hitters and inducing weak contact instead of trying to throw perfect pitches in search of strikeouts. Trusting his sinker to set up batters before he turns to his slider and changeup to put them away, he is looking more and more like the complete pitcher the Nationals have long touted him to be.
“My job here is to make it as tough for them to send me down,” he said. “Whether they want me in the rotation or the pen, I’m happy just to help this team get some wins.”
Fedde today did a particularly nice job attacking the zone after his teammates gave him a lead. The Nationals saw Howie Kendrick drive a leadoff homer to right-center to open the bottom of the second, then opened the floodgates during a four-run bottom of the third.
The big blows during that rally came from Kendrick (two-run single) and Brian Dozier (two-run double) but what made it all possible was Juan Soto’s preceding at-bat. The 20-year-old slugger, starting to resemble his sensational 2018 form, fell behind in the count 1-2 to Caleb Smith but then took three straight fastballs off the plate to draw a two-out walk and load the bases for Kendrick.
“A lot of us forget he’s so young,” third baseman Anthony Rendon said. “He’s also so well-polished. He’s so good, but he’s still learning up there. And so that’s a good sign that he can go from 1-2 to a walk.”
That was one several quality at-bats the Nationals put together against Smith, who entered with a 2.38 ERA and a growing reputation as one of the better lefties in the league. But the Nats knocked him out after only three innings. And then they didn’t let up against the Marlins bullpen, either.
After escaping the wrath of a 24-minute rain delay in the middle of the sixth that included a sudden downpour and even some hail, the Nationals delivered the final blow in the bottom of the inning against mop-up man Wei-Yin Chen. Michael A. Taylor, whose at-bats have been few and far between, ripped an RBI double to right-center. Rendon sent a triple off the wall in center field to bring home two more runs. And Soto’s sacrifice fly completed the four-run rally, extending the Nats’ lead to 9-0 and finally putting them in position to secure their long-awaited first three-game winning streak of the season.
“We’re piecing together some big innings, which is pretty good, throughout the middle of the game,” Dozier said. “And you do that, and you’re able to get a good pitcher like Caleb Smith who’s been throwing the ball really well ... if you can get him out of there and get to the bullpen, that was kind of how everything transpired today. We did a good job.”
And now if they can do a good job again Monday afternoon, they’ll have a chance at another first of 2019: a series sweep, with Max Scherzer on the mound.