To see Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez strategically make managerial moves to try to win a mid-season game was like a throwback to 2019 when he was in Houston. There was no elimination urgency this time in Houston, rather just smart strategy and a sense of urgency to win some games.
There were no moves that reeked of desperation — rather tactical moves that made sense even if they did not work out like inserting Michael Chavis as a pinch-runner for Dom Smith on Wednesday or Luis García for Alex Call as a pinch-hitter. Moves don’t have to show success to be the right move. The same with last night, it did not work out pinch-hitting Ildemaro Vargas for Call in the form of a hit but it was a productive out — these were the right maneuvers. Pulling MacKenzie Gore with 5 2/3 scoreless innings was the correct switch. Something that Martinez did not always do before. Even the 5-man infield on Wednesday was the right move. We wish we saw more of this in the previous 60+ games.
Remember when the Nats had that great 23-game run going 13-10 from the time they got hot in the freezing temps of Minnesota? Well, the month of June sits at a poor 3-8. Not a shocker given the schedule. The Nats knew the schedule was going to be tough against the reigning NL Champs, the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by the best team in the NL West
Dodgers uh, the first place Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by the NL East first place Atlanta Braves, and then the reigning World Series champion Astros. Hello. That is a tough schedule.
Since that Minnesota hot streak ended at 13-10, the Nats have gone 9-17. But the Nats could have easily won four of those games if not for some crucial mistakes or bad luck like the ending to Wednesday night’s craziness with the obstruction play that was not called. Win four more and guess what, that’s a 13-13 stretch and .500 baseball.
Every time you think the team is going to roll over, they surprise you and pounce like they are the better team. This is a team devoid of superstar players, but you got a star performance from Gore last night holding the juggernaut Houston offense to ZERO runs. That’s how you pitch against an opposing ace like Cristian Javier. You go toe-to-toe and match him zero for zero. That is what the Nats did until Keibert Ruiz broke the scoreless tie in the 9th inning against Houston’s closer with a solo home run. It only went 389 feet — but it was pulled into right field. So much better than watching Corey Dickerson‘s 414 foot shot get caught at the wall in center field on Tuesday. You win in Houston by pulling balls for homers — not trying to muscle them over the center field fence. A point I tried to drive home the other day when Houston clubbed four homers — all to the pull-side and at distances of only 366-399 feet. It isn’t how far you hit ’em — rather where you hit ’em. Remember, Howie Kendrick‘s foul pole is just 326 feet from the plate and the Crawford boxes in left field have a minimum distance of just 315 feet.
Last night, Hunter Harvey‘s blown save took the Nats to the most in MLB with 16 B.S. this season. Horrific. But too often the offense is only giving the bullpen one run margins to work with. It was Harvey’s fifth B.S. of the season. The good news is that he did not break and only bent leaving his team in a tie with a chance to win it in extra innings (the first extra inning game this season for the Nats) which the Nats did. Who would have thunk, Lane Thomas, with the game winning hit with a runner on third base. We just talked about how putrid Thomas was in those situations, and maybe just maybe he made an adjustment last night. On a pitch below the zone, Thomas was ready for it, and pulled it past the drawn-in infield. A key moment and great to see. Will this be a new trend for Thomas? We will see. He continues to play like the Nats best player batting .286 with an .801 OPS and a much-improved outfield defense.
It was a signature win last night, and a message that managing with good strategy is part of the little things.