Robles getting better, not ready to start yet (Nats win 7-3 in 10)

LOS ANGELES - The fate of the Nationals’ season will be determined without Victor Robles patrolling center field.

Robles, who suffered what the team called a mild right hamstring strain during Game 2 of the National League Division Series, remains out of the lineup for tonight’s do-or-die Game 5 against the Dodgers.

The 22-year-old rookie, who rated as one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors this season, worked out Tuesday and showed signs of progress, according to manager Davey Martinez. In the end, the Nationals weren’t willing to take a chance of starting him and risking major injury.

Robles-Fields-Blue-sidebar.jpg“Vic worked out yesterday. Watched him. He’s better, just quite not there,” Martinez said. “He’s definitely available to pinch-hit. But he’s one of our young, unbelievable players. And the way he plays - if you see him play every day - he can tell you he’s going to try to go 80 percent or something, but he can’t. He is just not that kind of player.”

If healthy, Robles almost certainly would be in tonight’s lineup. Though he went 0-for-3 in Game 1, he is 3-for-7 with a triple in his career against Dodgers starter Walker Buehler.

Michael A. Taylor, who starts his third straight game in Robles’ place, has never faced Buehler. Taylor, though, has played well in this series, going 3-for-7 with a walk. And despite his on-and-off career in the regular season, he has established a track record for October success: He’s a .333 hitter with two homers, eight RBIs, four walks and a 1.032 OPS in 12 postseason games.

If the right situation arises later, the Nationals believe they could use Robles. But the intention is to give him more time to rest and hope he’s available for the NL Championship Series if they advance.

“We want to be smart about this,” Martinez said. “If we need him to pinch-hit later on, he’s available. And Michael is playing really well. And I said this before, there’s really not big of a difference between the way he plays center field and the way Victor plays center field.”

Update: Of all the potential scenarios you had mapped out in your mind entering tonight, was the Dodgers absolutely hammering Stephen Strasburg one of them? Well, that’s what has happened so far. Joc Pederson led off the bottom of the first with what initially looked like a home run but was correctly changed to a double once Juan Soto pointed out the ball passed through the left field fence, not over it. It didn’t matter, because Max Muncy then destroyed a fastball to right-center for a two-run homer that left Dodger Stadium rocking. Strasburg kept getting hit hard in the first but somehow escaped with only those two runs across the plate. But then he opened the second serving up another homer, this time to Kiké Hernandez. He’s not throwing his curveball for strikes, so the Dodgers are sitting on his fastball, and they’re making him pay for it. It’s 3-0 L.A. after two nightmarish innings for the Nats.

Update II: The Nats have had some quality at-bats tonight against Buehler. They just haven’t been able to turn those into runs, either because of great defense by the Dodgers outfield or because of self-inflicted wounds (Strasburg bunting foul with two strikes, Trea Turner striking out on a pitch in the dirt). But then finally got on board in the sixth, thanks to Anthony Rendon’s leadoff double and Soto’s RBI single. That’s all they got, but they now trail 3-1. Same as the wild card game, for whatever that’s worth.

Update III: Clayton Kershaw relieved Buehler and got the final out of the seventh inning, but he surrendered successive home runs to Rendon and Soto on back-to-back pitches in the eighth and the Nationals have tied the game at 3-3. It’s the second time in thier history the Nationals have gone back-to-back in the playoffs; Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche did the trick in the 2012 NLDS in St. Louis. Kenta Maeda has relieved Kershaw.

Update IV: Daniel Hudson worked around a single by Hernández in the bottom of the ninth and we’re headed to extra innings in a 3-3 standoff.

Update V: Howie Kendrick’s grand slam has given the Nationals a 7-3 lead in the 10th inning. The inning began when Adam Eaton coaxed a walk off Joe Kelly and Rendon followed with a ground rule double that became lodged in the padding of the left field wall. Soto was intentionally walked, but Kendrick foiled the strategy by crushing an 0-1 pitch over the center field wall.

Update VI: Sean Doolittle worked a 1-2-3 ninth, finishing off the Nats’ 7-3 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 and sending them to the NLCS for the first time in team history. Game 1 in St. Louis will begin at 8:08 p.m. on Friday.

Michael A. Taylor made a sliding, juggling catch of a sinking liner by Justin Turner for the final out, a play that survived video replay while the Nats were celebrating.

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