Who said it couldn’t get worse for the Nationals? Be honest, because I know you’re out there.
After a tough loss Thursday night to end a four-game series in San Diego, and with an already jam-packed injured list, why would you say that knowing full well that it could, in fact, get worse?
Indeed, it did get worse for the Nationals in the form of a 5-3 loss to the Giants in front of 27,345 fans at Oracle Park to start the final series of the first half of the season, while also losing their second catcher to injury over the last week.
In his 10th start in the last 11 days, Yan Gomes had to depart in the middle of the second inning after ending the top of the frame by striking out. Gomes seemed to grimace on his way back to the dugout and was seen touching his left oblique as he went into the clubhouse with head athletic trainer Paul Lessard.
“Nothing yet, we’ll know more tomorrow,” manager Davey Martinez said in a Zoom session with reporters following the game. “He had an oblique, felt something pinch. He’s getting evaluated, so like I said, we’ll know more tomorrow.”
That thrust Tres Barrera into action, as he’s been serving as the backup catcher since Alex Avila landed on the 10-day IL last week with bilateral calf strains. The moment didn’t seem to bother Barrera, who used the next-man-up mentality to provide the Nationals with their first runs of the night with a two-run triple that was inches shy of a three-run home run in fourth. Gerardo Parra would then score Barrera with a double to tie the game at 3-3.
“He played really well,” Martinez said of Barrera. “I mean, that’s not an easy job to be a backup catcher and all of a sudden the catcher gets hurt. You gotta get ready, and he did a great job of preparing himself.”
It was Barrera’s first career triple, extra-base hit, RBIs and run scored, and he would finish the night with his first multi-hit game.
But that would be all the offense the Nationals could manage against the Giants pitching staff, which was putting together a bullpen game. They had some chances late in the game: runners on the corners and one out in the seventh, bases loaded with only one out in the eighth and two runners on in the ninth. But they stranded two runners in the seventh, grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth and grounded out to end the game in the ninth. The Nationals ended the game having stranded 10 runners on base.
After his RBI double, it was a rough night for Parra, who was thrown out at home twice and grounded into the eighth-inning double play to end his night.
“Yeah, I think the one, the ground ball, he thought the ball was further away from (Brandon) Crawford,” Martinez said of Parra’s perceived overaggressive baserunning. “The base hit, he was just going because they sent him. So the ground ball, he just thought the ball was further away than Crawford.”
“Yeah, I thought on a slow-roll ground ball I had a chance to score,” Parra said of play to Crawford. “So sometimes that happens when you have too (much) intensity to win, to try to help the team win. But I think it’s baseball. When you play baseball hard, when you do it like that, sometimes it happens.”
It wasn’t just frustrating for the offense, however, as the pitching was far from perfect in this one.
Needing depth from the usually reliable Paolo Espino to preserve the Nats’ banged-up bullpen, Martinez saw his starter only go 3 2/3 innings and give up three runs and six hits while not being able to get ahead in counts. Espino’s pitch count was elevated early thanks to a 31-pitch first inning and he didn’t seem to have his usual command of his pitches, especially his fastball, leaving some hangers over the plate for Giants hitters to square up.
“Yeah, that first inning was definitely a little tough,” Espino said. “I didn’t feel that I had my command. Fastball was way off. I was battling, trying to come back, trying to throw in the zone so they can put it in play. But it was definitely a little tough inning command-wise.”
The first blow was a second-inning two-run homer by catcher Curt Casali, who was starting in place of the injured Buster Posey.
Then Sam Clay gave up a 443-foot solo homer to Darin Ruf, who put the Giants back on top 4-3 with two outs in the fifth inning. Then two innings later, Wander Suero served up another longball to Wilmer Flores to put this one out of reach after the Nats spoiled their chance in the top of the seventh.
It was another tough loss for the Nationals, but with two more games left before the break, their biggest concerns have to be the ever-growing list of injuries and who is now their emergency catcher.
“The funny thing was Yadi (Yadiel Hernandez) was going to be our emergency catcher for a couple of innings there,” Martinez said. “We had him down there warming up, squatting down just to see if he could do it. I mean, it’s a tough ask, but we needed somebody in case something happened. So yeah, we’re working on stuff right now to see what we can do to get somebody here. I don’t know who it’s going to be yet. But we’ll see what happens with Yan tomorrow, and we definitely gotta get somebody on the way.”