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Bullpen shines in Nats' comeback win over Yanks

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Bullpen shines in Nats' comeback win over Yanks

Ryan Zimmerman got the headlines Tuesday night, and rightfully so after launching the 10th walk-off homer of his career to beat the Yankees in dramatic fashion. But that blast off the right-field foul pole might not have been possible if not for some yeoman's work from the Nationals' bullpen, which was forced into both early and late action in this ballgame.

After Gio Gonzalez's once-dominant start went awry in a hurry, the Nats' relief corps was asked to churn out five innings against a deep, experienced New York lineup. It wound up churning out five zeroes, getting contributions from five different arms.

"It's big for us," said Drew Storen, who pitched the ninth. "Especially in a big game like this, to have guys come out of the pen and come up in big spots and just give us an opportunity to win late in the game is all that we're asked to do."

That bullpen hasn't excelled at posting zeroes at all times so far this season, with several April meltdowns of note during the club's ragged, 7-13 start. But with some tweaks in personnel and in roles, that group has delivered a number of impressive performances over the last three weeks, helping the Nationals win 16 of their last 20 games to catch the Mets atop the NL East.

"We have unbelievable arms," right-hander Blake Treinen said. "We may be a little young, with few veteran guys, but everybody out there has unbelievable stuff. And I feel like we match up well against anybody. Some of us, myself included, have struggled against lefties early in the year, and that's been my issue. But we all put in work to get better every day. We encourage each other. We've made big strides as a team. We're playing good baseball right now."

Treinen was front-and-center in Tuesday's win, the first man out of the pen to replace Gonzalez, asked to pitch two innings and bridge the gap to his late-inning mates. He wound up retiring 6-of-7 batters faced, striking out both Garrett Jones and Chris Young.

After struggling as the club's primary setup man early in the season, Treinen has rediscovered himself pitching in lower-leverage situations since. He has posted a 2.93 ERA over his last 10 appearances, and over his last 10 innings he has allowed only one run and five hits, striking out 11.

"He threw some good sliders down and in to lefties tonight," manager Matt Williams said. "He pitched really well, and he's got the ability to go out there and do that. Early on, he didn't have command off the lefty, and the ball would sail off the plate. But he's made that adjustment and he's pitching well."

Matt Thornton took over for Treinen in the top of the eighth and retired 2-of-3 batters before Aaron Barrett entered to get Jose Pirela to end the inning. Storen then retired the side in the ninth, striking out Alex Rodriguez with a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner that had the crowd of 37,355 roaring with approval.

"A guy I grew up watching and looked up to as a kid," Storen said of the now-39-year-old slugger. "[I was] a big Mariners fan growing up, so it was kind of cool for me to face him. I'm just trying to miss that barrel, because he does have the power there to change the game. I knew if I made a mistake I'd pay for it, so I tried not to do that."

Storen now sports a 1.10 ERA for the season (better than his sparkling 1.12 mark in 2014) and he has now retired 29 of the last 31 batters he has faced.

His appearance Tuesday came not in a save situation and merely helped get the game into extra innings, where Matt Grace awaited. The rookie left-hander did his job in the top of the 10th, pitching around a 2-out walk of Mark Teixeira by striking out both Young and Brian McCann, completing a remarkable, 5-scoreless-inning evening for the Nationals bullpen.

"I think our motto is just: Try to hand it off to the next guy," Barrett said. "Just keep the torch going. Keep making pitches and getting guys out and hand it off to the next guy. And tonight was one of those nights where everyone did great."

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.