Nats ransacked by Padres in second-half opener (updated)

Had this performance come last weekend, with the Nationals on fumes at the end of a brutal stretch heading into the All-Star break, it might’ve been understandable. Annoying, but understandable, given the circumstances.

But for this to happen in the first game out of the break? With everyone refreshed and ready to go again? That isn’t going to sit well with anyone employed by the Nationals who had to watch tonight’s 24-8 beatdown at the hands of the Padres, a game that featured all kinds of maladies and a couple of not-so-memorable records at the expense of the home club.

Sure, the Nats remained banged up. They started their sixth different catcher of 2021, 37-year-old René Rivera, because both Yan Gomes and Alex Avila remain on the injured list. They remain without Kyle Schwarber, Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross and Tanner Rainey. And then earlier this afternoon they learned third baseman Starlin Castro was being placed on administrative leave while Major League Baseball investigates an allegation of domestic violence.

Fedde Fires Blue Sidebar.jpgAll of that would excuse a poor showing against the Padres, even a lopsided loss. But it doesn’t excuse this showing, with a host of defensive gaffes, an inability by anyone to throw strikes and a general sense of malaise by some wearing the navy blue jerseys that suggested they were just going through the motions on a sweltering, 92-degree Friday evening on South Capitol Street.

“Today was just a rough day, all around,” manager Davey Martinez said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “One of those days where I’m going to sit back tonight, go home and shake this one off and come back and be ready to play tomorrow. We came back off a break. Things didn’t go our way.”

Here are the notable occurrences. Read at your own risk ...

* The 24 runs allowed by the Nationals were the most in club history, shattering the previous record of 18 allowed to the Marlins on July 5, 2006 and to the Diamondbacks on Aug. 3, 2019. This matched the record for runs allowed by a Washington club in a major league game, a mark that had stood alone since Sept. 27, 1940, when the Senators allowed 24 runs to the Red Sox.

* Jake Cronenworth became only the second player to hit for the cycle against the Nats, joining the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, who did it on the final day of the 2018 season. Cronenworth achieved his feat by the sixth inning, when he dribbled a ball to the open left side of the infield for the single he needed after previously doubling, tripling and homering.

* Padres leadoff hitter Trent Grisham came up to bat seven times in eight innings, getting a break only in the fourth.

So that’s the bottom line at the end of the night. But where to begin? How about at the very beginning, a 37-minute first inning that firmly established the tone for this ballgame.

Wanting to give Max Scherzer a couple extra days to rest after his All-Star Game appearance earlier in the week, Martinez named Erick Fedde his starter coming out of the break, a reflection both of the manager’s confidence in the right-hander and of the ragged state of the Nationals rotation beyond its ace right now.

That Fedde couldn’t even make it through the second inning spoke volumes about the hot mess the aforementioned rotation is in, not to mention the strain it has put on an overtaxed bullpen.

“I was really thankful for the confidence in me, throwing the last (game before the break) and then getting it right back again for the first game after the break,” Fedde said. “Looking at it, I was really excited for it, and happy for the opportunity. I just didn’t really do what I was hoping for.”

Truth be told, Fedde deserved a better fate, at least during a three-run top of the first that saw the Padres put five balls in play but only one of them with an exit velocity more than 70 mph. There were two dribblers down the third base line that resulted in singles, Jordy Mercer (taking over with Castro no longer on the roster) unable to make tough barehanded grabs and throws in time to get the runner at first. There was a successful steal of second by Fernando Tatis Jr. despite a perfect pitchout by the Nationals that was foiled when Rivera (just signed today with both Gomes and Avila on the injured list) threw the ball into center field. And there was a double-steal in which Rivera threw to second and Alcides Escobar couldn’t get the ball back to the catcher in time to nab Tommy Pham.

“I overthrew a little bit,” said Rivera, who was released by Cleveland prior to the break. “It’s something I don’t like to do. I get really mad about it. That’s my game: catch and throw. It was a mistake that I made there in that inning. ... That’s something that I’m really going to sleep on. I hate making that mistake. But tomorrow’s another day.”

So just like that, the Nationals trailed 3-0 after their first half-inning in five days. And then just like that, it was 3-3 thanks to one mighty swing from a slugger who needs to do a lot more of that in the second half.

Fresh off his impressive showing in Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Coors Field, Juan Soto elevated a baseball 407 feet to right-center, a three-run homer that gave hopeful onlookers reason to wonder if this week’s nationally televised exhibition might actually help the struggling slugger rediscover his lost power stroke. (Another towering home run by Soto in the sixth, this one traveling 427 feet, plus two more singles will only bolster those hopeful feelings.)

“He looked great,” Martinez said. “He’s been hitting the ball well. He got some balls up in the air today. I really liked the two-strike at-bats that he had and roped the ball to center field. When he’s doing that, I know good things will come. He had a great day.”

So it was a whole new ballgame. If only Fedde had been able to take advantage of the mulligan his teammates supplied him. The right-hander could not find the plate in the top of the second. He faced four batters. He walked three of them.

“It’s gotta be the walks,” Fedde said when asked what stood out most to him about this outing. “Starting out both innings like that was not ideal. I think it just kind of set the tone in the wrong way. Free bases are definitely not a good way to start the game.”

And that was as much as his manager could stand. Martinez pulled Fedde after 57 pitches in 1 1/3 innings and asked rookie Andres Machado to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam against the heart of the San Diego lineup.

That, unsurprisingly, proved too difficult a task. Machado faced four batters and retired only one of them. And that was after Cronenworth was called out for obstructing Mercer as he tried to field a ball between second and third.

Enter Paolo Espino, the Nationals’ third pitcher of the second inning, though not necessarily out of the mix to start against the Marlins on Tuesday if Ross isn’t ready to return from the IL. And he was immediately greeted by Wil Myers, who blasted a grand slam to left on the fifth pitch he saw, blowing the game wide open.

It was the 10th grand slam surrendered by Nationals pitchers this season, breaking the previous club record of nine set in 2018.

“Nobody really threw strikes,” Martinez said. “Everybody was behind. A lot of balls were left up. When you have a team like the Padres - you look at their lineup and those guys swing the bat - when you’re 2-0, 3-1, you’re going to get hit. And you saw that tonight.”

Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough, moments earlier as Espino was completing his warmup tosses, Victor Robles needed to depart the game after feeling dizzy and sick to his stomach in the sweltering heat and humidity.

Everything that transpired after that was academic as the two teams played out the string. The Padres scored in each of the game’s first six innings before finally being held in check by Ryne Harper in the seventh. Wander Suero allowed six runs while recording only one out in the sixth. Yadiel Hernandez flat-out missed a fly ball he was in position to catch along the left field line.

It was, plain and simple, a fiasco for the Nationals. In their first game back from an All-Star break that was supposed to rejuvenate them.

“I want to brush it off,” Martinez said. “They came out and scored three. We’re down three. We come back and score three. And then they come back and score seven. It’s tough. You feel like you’re back in the game at that point. ... But when you suddenly can’t get any outs, and you give up seven runs in the second inning, it’s tough. You’re just scratching and clawing at that point just to stay alive.”

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