WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres, 7-6, Sunday to move to 12-14. Here are five observations from the game…
1. Margins are thin each day at Nationals Park, in part because the league’s worst bullpen is always looming, in part because the offense and starting pitching often find a way to keep things tight before they become undone.
Washington entered extra innings Sunday following a youth-fueled rally against an early 6-0 deficit. Juan Soto (20) homered, Carter Kieboom (21) homered, Victor Robles (21) homered.
Erick Fedde -- yes, Erick Fedde -- pitched well in relief. Kyle Barraclough pitched well in relief. Joe Ross pitched well in relief. Tony Sipp pitched well in relief. Seven scoreless innings in all, piling together the bullpen’s best effort of the season.
So, two on, none out, for the Nationals in the 10th inning. Big business. By the end of it, no runs and one great play by Manny Machado.
Machado -- replacing stellar rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. after Tatis’ split to catch a throw at second injured him -- smothered a hard ground ball up the middle from Howie Kendrick with two outs. He rose, then threw to first to end the inning. On they went.
Justin Miller moved through the top of the 11th; make it eight scoreless innings for the Nationals’ bullpen.
Then, San Diego with an odd tactical move in the bottom of the 11th: It left a right-hander in to face left-handed Matt Adams. He hit the third pitch he saw deep into right field for a walk-off win.
Joy followed. Needed joy for a team staring at a sweep, down 6-0 at home, heading toward an 11-15 record. Not everything was fixed in one day. But, it beat the alternative.
“We had a tough April, but we’re playing good baseball,” Adams said. “We just need to get some things to fall our way. Keep going out there and playing the game the way we know how to play it. Doing the little things right, getting guys in from third base with less than two outs, putting pressure on the other team. When we do that, I think we’re going to get on a roll and we’re going to forget this April even happened.”
2. Fedde was on the move Saturday when the Nationals began preparations for Sunday’s game against San Diego. Jeremy Hellickson’s starts are known for their brevity. Bringing Fedde in to replace an injured Ryan Zimmerman assured the Nationals’ bullpen of having a long man should Hellickson’s start not last. It didn’t.
Hellickson pitched three innings. Fedde pitched four.
The prospect-turned-question-mark was pitching well for Double-A Harrisburg (2.66 ERA in four starts) before arriving at Nationals Park for Sunday’s game. It’s also difficult to put sufficient stock in his work at such a lower level.
But, Fedde was crisp Sunday: four innings, two hits, three strikeouts, a walk and no earned runs. He threw 49 pitches, 34 strikes. The latter number has been a challenge for Fedde at the major-league level. A promising show for a day.
“I think today I tried to treat it as a start, I knew the bullpen had been kind of beat up,” Fedde said. “So I told myself, no matter what, it’s probably my job to get through four, five, six, whatever it might be, and the guys battled back and got it to the place where we were able to win.”
3. An eventful first few days for Carter Kieboom.
He homered to tie the game late in his debut Friday. He hit a ground ball Saturday which took a bad bounce off the mound and ricocheted right to the second baseman. Otherwise, it’s a seventh-inning single that probably pushes the Nationals in front. He homered Sunday to pull the Nationals to within a run.
Kieboom will have, at a minimum, a four-week stay in the major leagues. Trea Turner’s 4- to 8-week recovery timetable makes that portion of Kieboom’s path clear. Turner’s return makes the rest murky. It does not assure Kieboom’s departure. But, it would move him out of the starting shortstop spot.
Until then, Kieboom is an intriguing bat at the bottom of the lineup.
4. Let’s recount the third inning, which was part chaos, conundrum and comeback.
First, the top half: Hellickson pitching. His opening inning hinted his day would be short. Deep fly balls for outs -- and one that became a home run. Lots of hard contact. Launch angle and exit velocity teamed in the fourth when Eric Hosmer hit a three-run homer to put San Diego up, 6-0. An error in the inning by Brian Dozier complicated things.
Down six, steaming toward a weekend sweep, the Nationals were not in a good place. A zany bottom of the fourth changed that.
Robles singled when he beat Padres starter Joey Lucchesi to first thanks to a headfirst slide. Dozier singled. Then, for the second consecutive game, the Padres signalled for a 2-0 fastball to Juan Soto. He homered. Quickly, the lead was cut in half.
Howie Kendrick reached second on a two-base E-4. Hard to do, but true. Kurt Suzuki’s single drove him in; 6-4. Kieboom singled. Michael A. Taylor walked. Lucchesi teetered and Davey Martinez took a big swing in the moment.
Martinez replaced Hellickson 55 pitches into his bumpy outing. Adam Eaton pinch-hit. He struck out.
“We're inching our way back and I thought, 'Hey, we got bases loaded. We got our everyday right fielder sitting on the bench. We got to take a shot at tying this game up or go ahead. We'll figure it out from there,'” Martinez said. “Having Fedde, knowing he can go three or four innings was huge.”
The strategy was bold. Using Eaton that early meant Martinez had just two bench players -- Wilmer Difo and Yan Gomes -- the rest of the game. Anthony Rendon (more on him below) was also on the bench, but sending Eaton to the plate instead of Rendon made clear Rendon would not be available to hit, because that was an otherwise perfect situation for him to appear.
In all, a crazed inning when sent the game sprawling away from the Nationals before they roped it back in.
5. Rendon was not in the lineup Sunday. Again.
Rendon’s left elbow remained sore after his three at-bats Friday night. Those came during his first appearance since being struck by a pitch in Miami on April 20. Rendon has a large bruise just above his elbow. Swelling returned to the spot after Rendon played in the series opener against the San Diego Padres.
Rendon’s chances of landing on the injured list are increasing. At the least, the Nationals have played six games with a short bench because Rendon was not placed on the injured list, but was also unavailable off the bench.
They have also greatly increased his absence should he end up on the injured list. Rendon could have been placed on the injured list as soon as April 21. Washington had another three days to put him on the injured list retroactive to April 21 while he sat out during the series in Colorado. It did not. Instead, Rendon played Friday, which reset his clock.
So, if Rendon is placed on the injured list Monday, for example, it can only be retroactive to the day after the last time he played -- which in this case is Saturday. That would cause him to be out until May 7, at a minimum, meaning Rendon would have three at-bats across 17 days and 16 games because the Nationals did not place him on the injured list in the first place.
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