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Back-to-back home runs rescue Nationals against Pirates

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Back-to-back home runs rescue Nationals against Pirates

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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Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

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Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

NEW YORK -- Normal is not something the Nationals do this season.

Monday’s pivot from the mundane -- an otherwise run-of-the-mill 5-3 baseball game -- came when Adam Eaton was jogging toward the visitors dugout in the bottom of the third inning when he stopped to respond to New York third baseman Todd Frazier, whom Eaton said was chirping at him all night.

This is not new. The two were teammates on the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and did not get along. Last year, Frazier and Eaton also had an exchange. The one Monday night at Citi Field prompted several members of the Nationals to hop over the dugout railing while Frazier and Eaton were being restrained near the first base bag. First base umpire Mike Estabrook cutoff Eaton who was walking toward Frazier after initially heading to the dugout following a 4-6-3 double play which ended the inning for the Nationals. When Frazier came toward the Mets dugout from his position at third base, the two began their spat.

Afterward, Frazier declined to comment in the Mets’ clubhouse, saying only, “It was nothing.” Eaton took the opportunity to expound on his displeasure with the incident, its continuation and Frazier himself.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Eaton said. “Gosh, who knows what goes through that guy’s mind? He’s chirping all the way across the infield. He must really like me, [because] he wants to get my attention it seems like every time we come into town, he really cares what I think about him. I don’t know what his deal is, if he wants to talk to me in person or have a visit or what it is. But he’s always yelling across the infield at me, making a habit of it.

“He’s one of those guys who always says it loud enough that you hear it but can’t understand it. So, he’s making a habit of it. I ignored him a couple times chirping coming across, but I had it to the point where I’m not going to say the saying I want to say but you got to be a man at some point. So, I turned around, had a few choice words with him. It’s funny, I was walking towards him, he didn’t really want to walk towards me but as soon as someone held him back then he was all of a sudden he was really impatient, like trying to get towards me. Just being Todd Frazier. What’s new?”

Asked if he is surprised such exchanges are still happening three years after they played together, Eaton said he was.

“Yes, absolutely,” Eaton said. “He’s very childish. I’m walking with my head down, play’s over, I’m walking away. I can still hear him. I’m a 30-year-old man with two kids, got a mortgage and everything. He wants to loud talk as he’s running off the field. At the end of the day, I got to be a man about it. I tried to stay patient with the childishness, but it is what it is. I got to stand up eventually.”

He did, and what could have been merely Game 47 for a struggling team turned out to be something else.

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 5-3, Monday to drop their record to 19-28. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A wondrous, very Mets day preceded the game.

Their general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, held a press conference to announce...Yoenis Cespedes -- already out because of dual heel surgeries -- suffered multiple ankle fractures during a ranch accident over the weekend. Van Wagenen then went on to profess his support for maligned New York manager Mickey Callaway -- for the most part. Last, and most important to writers, three boxes of donuts were in the press box with a note: “Have a great series! -- BVW”.

Things are always a little different in Flushing. That was a problem for the Nationals.

In what could be labeled a “reverse-lock” situation, Washington’s $140 million starter, Patrick Corbin, was outpitched by unknown and often ineffective Wilmer Font, whom the Nationals smacked around just five days ago. The Nationals, as they often do, dragged themselves back into the game after trailing 4-0. A Juan Soto single drove in Anthony Rendon in the eighth to cut the lead to 4-3. Rendon was on base four times.

And, again, it was just enough to produce a close loss. Washington put two runners on with none out against dynamic New York closer Edwin Diaz before Kurt Suzuki flew out, Trea Turner grounded into a fielder's choice and Adam Eaton flew out.

The Nationals drop to nine games under .500 following one-run and two-run defeats. They also fell to 2-14 in series openers.

2. A rough, short evening for Corbin.

He trudged through the night on 98 pitches. Corbin lasted just five innings. He walked three, gave up four earned runs, struck out seven.

His night was a mess early. Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso homered in the first inning. Two walks in the third -- one with two outs -- led to two more runs scoring. He zipped through the fourth and fifth before being removed.

Corbin has endured two blowups this season in an otherwise quality first two months: Monday and April 29 against St. Louis. The latter outing featured four walks and a homer allowed against one of the league’s better offenses. Monday’s bad outing came against a Mets lineup which did not feature Robinson Cano to start and entered the evening 21st in wOBA.

Bad timing. Bad night.

3. Tanner Rainey made his Nationals debut Monday. He was interesting.

Rainey gave up a hustle double to pinch-hitter Cano -- yes, hustle and Cano -- but otherwise showed a sharp fastball-slider combination.

Rainey was the return for Tanner Roark in the offseason trade that sent Roark to Cincinnati during the Winter Meetings.

He has command trouble. He also throws 98-100 mph with ease. Asked in spring training where that velocity comes from, Rainey said his legs and weight lifting. No secret sauce. He lifted more, he threw harder. And he subsequently repeated the process.

Rainey’s velocity will always intrigue. The question is if he can command his two-pitch arsenal enough to become an actual bullpen weapon. The baseline tools are there.

4. A shuffle in the relief corps is coming.

Tony Sipp (oblique) was activated from the 10-day injured list Monday. Dan Jennings was designated for assignment. That experiment is over. Jennings signed a minor-league contract April 15. He was in the majors April 30. He’s gone less than a month later. He did not pitch well.

The Nationals claimed right-handed Javy Guerra off waivers Monday. Guerra was designated for assignment by Toronto. Guerra pitched 14 innings for the Blue Jays this season, with a 3.86 ERA and 3.17 FIP. In other words, distinctly better than most in the Nationals bullpen.

Washington expects Guerra to arrive in New York on Tuesday. Kyle McGowin is likely to be sent back to Triple-A Fresno to make room. So, two fresh pitchers in the bullpen early in the week.

Trevor Rosenthal should also be back shortly. He is expected to throw an inning for Double-A Harrisburg on Tuesday. Rainey will likely be sent back to the minor leagues to make room there.

And, a situation in West Palm Beach, Fla., to keep an eye on: reliever Austen Williams had to be shut down to allow his shoulder to rest. Williams threw 40 pitches at the spring training facility the first week of May, when he appeared on his way back from the 10-day injured list. However, he has stopped throwing after experiencing further shoulder soreness. He was placed on the injured list April 19 because of a sprained right AC joint.

5. Matt Adams worked with the team on the field Monday, which he expects to do the next two days.

He’s on the verge of being activated before the week is out.

“I watched him [Monday] and he took some really good swings,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels [Tuesday]. I’m assuming that he might be a little sore, because he did take some swings and he’s going to continue to do baseball activities [Monday]. But we’ll see how he feels.”

Adams’ 15-day absence has handcuffed Martinez in multiple ways. Take Sunday. Right-handed slider-thrower Steve Cishek on the mound. Left-handed hitters’ OPS against Cishek is 143 points higher than right-handers. But, no Adams meant no left-handed pinch-hitter.

Those issues should be over soon.

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