The Nationals opened the 2022 season with a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the New York Mets in D.C. on Thursday night. Patrick Corbin got the start and showed some impressive flashes, but he didn’t make it very deep in the game and the bullpen got knocked around for a few runs.
Washington’s offense never really got going, though Juan Soto did treat the hometown fans to an upper-deck home run while Keibert Ruiz recorded a pair of hits.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the Nationals’ Opening Night loss.
Keibert Ruiz puts potential on display
The Mets put Keibert Ruiz’s arm to the test right out of the gate.
Starling Marte, who entered the game with 296 career steals, attempted to swipe second base off him in the top of the first. Patrick Corbin kept him close with a pick-off move and Ruiz fired a perfect strike to Alcides Escobar to nail the leadoff man for the first out of the game.
Ruiz impressed at the plate in limited playing time last year, but his defense has always been among his strongest traits. The Nationals keyed in on him as the centerpiece of the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner trade last summer for that very reason.
That’s not to say Ruiz didn’t make an impact in the batter’s box. An inning later, the 23-year-old walked up to the plate for his first at-bat of the year and hit a double off the wall in right field that probably would’ve cleared the fence on a warmer night. Ruiz had to settle for a double, however, before being stranded on the basepaths.
He later added another hit and finished 2-for-4 on the day. Not a bad start to the young backstop’s first full major-league season.
Alcides Escobar fills the highlight reel
Though it took the Mets five innings to score their first runs of the game, they would’ve scored an inning earlier had it not been for Alcides Escobar. The Nationals’ shortstop made a couple of stellar plays in the field Thursday, none more impactful than his throwing out Pete Alonso at home plate in the top of the fourth.
Eduardo Escobar hit a double to straightaway center field off Patrick Corbin that Victor Robles fielded cleanly and threw to his cutoff man. Alonso had already rounded third base when the shortstop received the ball, but he threw it home anyway and for good reason: The throw made it in time to beat Alonso and end the inning.
Escobar — the Nationals’ Escobar, that is — opened the season as the Nationals’ starting shortstop after resurrecting his big-league career in Washington last season. Luis García may be the future of the position in D.C., but at least on Day 1 of the season, the former Kansas City Royal is looking the part of an everyday player.
Patrick Corbin runs out of gas
The Nationals gave the ball to Patrick Corbin for their first game of the season and he came out strong over the first three innings, holding the Mets scoreless with just one hit allowed. Both his sinker and slider were working for him as true out pitches and the fastball averaged 91 mph. New York couldn’t muster any hard contact against him.
Corbin then started to run into trouble in the fourth. Had it not been for Escobar’s defensive wizardry, he would’ve allowed a run to score with another runner in scoring position. When he came back out for the fifth, four straight Mets reached base. They did it on a bunt single, a walk, a single to center field and a hit by pitch.
Again, not a lot of hard contact, but the Mets had the bases loaded with one out and a runner across. So manager Davey Martinez pulled him, despite the left-hander having thrown just 76 pitches. Right-hander Víctor Arano got the call and allowed one runner to score on a groundball before getting out of the inning. Corbin’s final line: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R (2 ER), 2 BB, 4 K, 4/2 GO/FO.
While he was ready to throw a full start’s worth after breaking the 90-pitch mark in his final spring training outing, Martinez opted not to push Corbin and make him work his own way out of the jam. The start of the game was delayed over an hour due to inclement weather, with the initial announcement of the delay coming a little more than an hour before the scheduled first pitch.
Juan Soto goes boom
Well, that didn’t take long.
Trevor May’s reaction said it all. Soto took the gift of a fastball down the middle and pulled it to the upper deck in right field. Statcast estimated the ball traveled 428 feet at a speed of 111 mph off the bat. It was a no-doubter, giving Soto his first home run of the season and the 99th of his MLB career.
Aside from receiving his second career Silver Slugger award prior to the game, Soto had an otherwise quiet evening. He grounded out in his first at-bat, struck out in his second and drew a four-pitch walk in his final plate appearance in the top of the eighth.
Side note: Nice catch, kid.
Offense hits snooze and never wakes up
The Nationals managed just four hits against the Mets on Thursday, stranding six baserunners while going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Starter Tylor Megill, pitching in place of the injured Jacob deGrom, did his best impression of the two-time Cy Young winner by throwing high-90s heat and topping out at 99. Megill’s fastest pitch all last season was clocked at 97.6.
Each time it looked like the Nationals were going to start a rally, the offense would stall once multiple runners got on. Maikel Franco ended the second inning with a double play. Neither Soto nor Nelson Cruz could capitalize on a runners-on-the-corners situation with one out in the third. Josh Bell and Ruiz made some noise with two-out singles in the sixth, but a Lane Thomas fielder’s choice ended the threat.
The Nationals’ offense looks like it will be the strength of this team in 2021. The cold air certainly didn’t help in that regard, including a pair of deep fly balls by Ruiz that might have cleared the fence in July or August. While the bats didn’t show up Thursday night, it’s going to be difficult to keep a group that includes Soto, Cruz and Bell in the middle of the order quiet.