WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-2, Saturday afternoon to move to 7-6. Here are five observations from the game.
1. Midway up the fourth deck behind the visitor’s dugout -- the cheap seats, if there still are such a thing -- a small pack of cheers broke out late in Adam Eaton’s eighth-inning at-bat.
Brooks Orpik had just scored in overtime up the road in Capital One Arena to give the Capitals a 2-0 series lead. Eaton hit the next pitch into right-center field to tie the game. Howie Kendrick hit the following pitch into the left-center stands for a lead. Suddenly, a stagnant offense stifled by Chris Archer throughout the day, delivered the first back-to-back home runs of the Nationals season -- completing a kind of sports lightning bolt from the center of town down South Capitol Street.
Eaton was on base three times Saturday. His first at-bat lasted 10 pitches before a single. He singled again in the third inning. Eaton picked up two of the four hits Pirates starter Chris Archer allowed.
Sean Doolittle entered in the top of the ninth. Two runners reached before a strike out and fly out ended it.
“That’s the beauty of the game,” Eaton said. “That’s why people watch it. People watch it because there’s no time. There’s always a strike left. You have a chance to win. I think this team’s going to be scrappy all year. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those things where we have unbelievable numbers, except for Tony – he’s a freak. But besides that, I think all of us are going to scrap together as a unit and try to be difficult to pitch against 1 through 9 and really just grind out wins. I love it, because that’s the type of player that I am. I think it’s the type of year it’s going to be, especially in this division.”
2. Nice afternoon for Anibal Sanchez: seven innings pitched, two earned runs, two strikeouts, a walk.
Sanchez made it through the seventh thanks to back-to-back ground balls in the seventh delivering three outs.
“We put a really good game-plan against those guys,” Sanchez said. “Those guys, they hit a lot, they can run, that's one of the things we cared all day about, you know, who can be on base, who can know, who can attack, who can know, so that's what we were working all day on that situations.”
Saturday was Sanchez’s best outing of the young season -- dropping his ERA almost two runs. It also gave the Nationals 14 innings and just three earned runs allowed (1.93 ERA) from their two starters to open the three-game series against Pittsburgh.
Trouble for each is they handed a tight game to the bullpen. Wander Suero finally provided a clean bridge to Doolittle.
3. Austen Williams received word in the third inning Friday: Come to Nationals Park as soon as possible.
He was in the bullpen for Triple-A Fresno, which was in the midst of a road series in Las Vegas. Williams hopped on a plane from Las Vegas that stopped in Chicago then landed at Dulles International Airport on Saturday morning. Groggy and thankful, Williams caught a nap in the Nationals clubhouse. He warmed up with the rest of the bullpen members, then headed to his new home shortly before game time.
Williams took Justin Miller’s roster spot. Miller went on the 10-day injured list Saturday because of a lower-back strain.
A strong spring put Williams in this position. He retired 22 of 24 batters on the way to a 0.00 ERA. His 15.43 ERA in Fresno emerged because of one bad outing. Williams said his stuff worked well, which was his prime concern.
He hasn’t watched the Nationals much because of the time difference. Though, Williams knew the bullpen was struggling. His role is undefined beyond a simple idea: get outs.
“If they need me to need me to go three innings, I'll go three,” Williams said. “If they need me to get one batter, I'll do whatever.”
4. Juan Soto had an adventure in left field in the fourth. He charged and dived for a sinking fly ball. He did not catch it.
The ball made it to the wall. Josh Bell, who hit it, made it to third base with one out. Colin Moran’s double scored Bell with the Pirates’ first run.
If Soto just keeps the ball in front of him, it’s a single. Moran’s double came down the right-field line with the infield in. It would have been back. With one out, Bell was unlikely to score, even if the grounder went past Matt Adams when he was in a normal fielding position.
Like Eaton throwing past the cutoff man Friday cost the Nationals a run, Soto’s ill-fated decision cost them one Saturday.
5. Adams started at first base Saturday. He didn’t make it to the end of the game.
Adams stepped on Archer’s foot when running out a grounder in the bottom of the seventh. He pulled up in shallow right field before walking very slowly back to the dugout. Adams gingerly went down the dugout steps, and banged his helmet off the railing in frustration.
Ryan Zimmerman took over at first base in the eighth inning. Manager Davey Martiner said Adams rolled his ankle a bit. Adams said he will be fine to play Sunday.
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