BALTIMORE - Though they’d never admit it publicly, the Nationals know well their upcoming weekend series at SunTrust Park carries far more significance than this two-game set at Camden Yards. Four games against the division-leading Braves simply mean more to the Nats’ ultimate chances in 2019 than two games against the worst-in-baseball Orioles.
Which didn’t mean the Nationals could completely gloss over this interleague series. They still need to take care of business here. They’d just like to do it without burning up their best pitchers.
Given all that, tonight’s 8-1 win was exactly what the doctor ordered. The Nationals got six innings of one-run ball from No. 5 starter Austin Voth. And they got enough offense to allow Davey Martinez to rest his top relievers, perhaps saving those precious bullets for the weekend in Atlanta.
“It’s huge, it really is,” Martinez said. “That saves the rest of those guys that have been pitching every day.”
And so the Nationals mostly breezed through this interleague opener in front of a bipartisan crowd of 23,362 for their 31st win in their last 43 games, securing their place atop the National League wild card standings, all while trying to keep pace with the equally red-hot Braves in the NL East, who were getting trounced in Milwaukee.
“The guys in this clubhouse, we don’t take anything for granted,” Adams said. “We go out there and we play until we get 27 outs. Whether the score is 10-1 or whether it’s 3-2, we’re going out there and we’re battling til the last out.”
The Nationals went into the game hoping their lineup would have a big night, especially with an extra bat courtesy the designated hitter. But they also knew they were going to need Voth to keep the Orioles in check, and that was no given.
Outstanding in his season debut against the Braves but subpar in his last two starts against the Tigers and Royals, Voth was an unknown quantity heading into this outing. And his first inning didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence about his chances for success.
After retiring leadoff man Jonathan Villar, Voth proceeded to go hit-by-pitch, walk, hit-by-pitch, loading the bases without having so much as allowed a ball to be put into play.
“I definitely wasn’t comfortable in that first inning,” the right-hander said. “The ball kept slipping out of my hand. I hit two guys and didn’t have my command. ... I felt like I was going a million miles (an hour). I was just too fast. So I just had to kind of slow things down, that’s for sure.”
Voth did just that. And that allowed him to escape the jam unharmed.
“Things weren’t going my way, but I was one pitch from getting out of the inning,” he said. “There was one out. I could always get a groundball and a double play. I’m never out of an inning. I’m always confident in my stuff. I think that’s a good quality that I have about myself: I’m very confident in what I have, all of my pitches. That definitely helped me get out of the first inning.”
Hanser Alberto did get Voth for a solo homer in the bottom of the second, but that’s all the Orioles would get off him. The rookie pitched with men on base most of the night, but he stranded them all and managed to get through six innings on an economical 84 pitches.
“He settled down,” Martinez said. “And he was awesome.”
By the time Voth departed, the Nationals had staked him to a 5-1 lead, thanks in large part to a pair of titanic blasts from a couple of lefties known for doing just that.
Adams got things started in the top of the second when he launched a ball over the right field wall, over the flag court and onto Eutaw Street, the 102nd home run to reach that point in the ballpark’s 28 seasons of existence.
“It’s very neat to be cemented in history,” he said. “Especially in a ballpark like this.”
The first of Rendon’s pair of RBI doubles gave the Nats a 2-1 lead in the third. Three innings later, Soto led off the sixth with a foul ball off his right shin and fell to the ground in a heap. No worries, because once he composed himself and got back in the box he destroyed Asher Wojciechowski’s pitch 443 feet to right-center. The red-clad portion of the crowd roared with approval as Soto rounded the bases for the 17th time this year.
“For me, I just get mad,” Soto said of the foul ball. “When I hit it, I was like: You hit me. It wasn’t me. It was the pitcher. I just get mad, and I tried to hit the ball as hard as I can.”
A smorgasbord of tack-on runs - two in the sixth, one in the seventh, one in the eighth, two in the ninth - extended the lead to 8-1 and gave the Nationals bullpen a bit of a cushion. Enough of a cushion, as it turned out, to keep Sean Doolittle from even needing to warm up.
“We need all eight of those guys down there,” Martinez said.
Given the importance of the series that immediately follows this one, that feels especially true right now.