For only the sixth time this season, a Nationals starter took the mound for the eighth inning, the first such instance in more than three months. The guys who had previously done it? Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Joe Ross.
The guy who did it tonight in Miami? Josh Rogers.
Yes, that Josh Rogers. The 27-year-old dumped from the Orioles’ Triple-A roster earlier this summer. The one who signed a minor league deal with the Nats and got a chance to return to the majors earlier this month to start the nightcap of a doubleheader. The one who after tonight’s brilliant performance in a 7-1 victory over the Marlins is now 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four starts and might just be thrusting himself into the equation for 2022 in the process.
In a season that has seen so many things go wrong for this franchise, here’s one wholly unexpected positive development. The Nationals have no idea if Rogers is the real deal yet, not in such a short time watching him pitch. But the lefty sure couldn’t make any more of a case for himself at this point.
“I’m just not taking anything for granted,” he said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “I’m just super blessed and fortunate to be given the opportunity from the Nats. They took a chance on me. I got released by the Orioles. Somebody took a chance on me.”
Tonight’s start, in which he allowed one run over 7 2/3 innings, was the best of the bunch. Though he gave up some loud outs early, Rogers never lost his composure, never lost his groove and never let the Marlins get back into the game.
He had help. From Andres Machado, who stranded the bases loaded to close out the eighth. From Mason Thompson, who closed it out in the ninth with a six-run lead. And from a lineup that was shut out most of the night but made the most of two big rallies (in the sixth and in the ninth) to score all seven runs.
The second matchup in a week between Josh and Trevor Rogers turned into another pitchers’ duel, though this time the two starters stuck around a bit longer to take some pressure off their bullpens.
Trevor Rogers was electric, striking out nine of the first 18 batters he faced while posting five zeros to open his evening. The only downside: The Marlins lefty was using up a good number of pitches to do it, and that may have left him vulnerable come the top of the sixth.
Sure enough, the Nationals finally got to him in rapid succession, with some help from Miami’s defense. After Alcides Escobar led off the inning with a walk and Juan Soto struck out for the first time in 43 plate appearances, Miguel Rojas had trouble with Josh Bell’s grounder to short and couldn’t get the throw to first in time.
That set the stage for a flurry of RBI singles, four of them in succession, as it turned out. Keibert Ruiz continued his recent surge, making the rookie catcher 11 for his last 19 on a base hit to left that ended with Escobar violently colliding into catcher Nick Fortes, a legal play because the throw drew Fortes into Escobar’s running lane.
“He’s running, trying to get to home,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And the next thing you know, the catcher’s right in front of you. He said: ‘I didn’t even really see him. He ran right in front of me and we collided.’ You can’t do nothing about that.”
Yadiel Hernandez was next with a sharp single to the hole at short that Rojas couldn’t handle, bringing Bell home from third. Marlins manager Don Mattingly pulled Rogers after that and entrusted the rest of the inning to Anthony Bass, but the Nats responded with two more RBI singles by Jordy Mercer and Luis García, completing a four-run rally.
“That’s great; I’m getting the results, getting RBIs,” said Ruiz, who has had multiple hits in four of his last five starts. “I’m helping the team win. But it’s everybody. Everybody’s playing good.”
The Nationals’ sixth-inning rally more than made up for the solo homer Josh Rogers served up to Fortes in the bottom of the fifth, the only real blemish on his pitching line tonight. The lefty did just as he’s done throughout his brief time in D.C., working fast, throwing strikes and pitching with the kind of energy rarely seen these days.
“I always enjoy when I catch him,” Ruiz said. “He’s not scared to throw a strike. He wants to compete on the mound and he’s always fun to catch.”
At one point, Rogers mimicked Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s home run dance move after striking out the Marlins rookie. (“All in good fun,” he insisted.) Later, he sprinted toward first on Chisholm’s little roller and made a sprawling flip from his glove to Bell to nab the speedy infielder on one of the best defensive plays of the year.
“He’s super fast,” Rogers said. “I didn’t know if J.B. was going to come for the ball or not, and I just said: ‘Well, I’m going to commit to it and try this.’ I just sprinted over there, tried the glove flip. And that was pretty sick. I was hyped off that, for sure.”
And unlike last week, when he was pulled for a pinch-hitter after 73 pitches in five innings, Rogers was this time given the opportunity to stay out there. He completed the sixth on 73 pitches. He completed the seventh on 84 pitches. And though he couldn’t quite complete the eighth, he more than did his part on this night to win the game and turn some more heads around the D.C. area.
“He’s a gamer,” Martinez said. “He goes out there every fifth day, and he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”