The primary theme of this Nationals season is progress, but it can be easy to forget on nights like Wednesday, when the Nationals were stringing zeros together for the second straight night in a half-empty ballpark. But baseball seasons are about the overarching picture, not one snapshot.
Even after losing two straight, during which they’ve scored two runs, the Nationals are on a 78-win pace, which would give them a nine-win improvement over last season, even as Davey Johnson has, at times, prioritized what’s best for next season over of what’s best for now. They’re in third place, where they have never finished. Barring an utter collapse, the Nationals will have moved forward by the end of this season.
The Nationals have made those steps with the help of players who might not be part of their long-term core. One of them is Laynce Nix. Playing with a sore Achilles’ tendon and losing playing time in a platoon, Nix had gone 9 for 56 since the Nationals traded for Jonny Gomes entering last night. His last home run had come July 27, the day before Gomes made his first start for the Nationals.
Nix started last night 0 for 2, and then in the seventh he snapped a string of 17 out of 18 batters retired by Daniel Hudson with a double. In the ninth inning, he came to the plate with the Nationals losing, 4-0, and down to their last out. The Nationals had not scored in 21 innings. Things were looking bleak. And Nix launched a home run.
“I think the one thing out of this game we can take is Nix,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “A lot of times when you’re playing hurt and things aren’t going great, you kind of question yourself. Like, ‘Oh, should I keep on playing like this, or should I say it’s too much to bear?’ He turned it into a 2-for-4 night. A big home run in the ninth inning. Jonny Gomes follows. We put a little rally together right there. That’s exactly what the organization is looking for in terms of veteran leadership, things like that. I say it all the time, but that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. He hasn’t been swinging the bat that well, and hits a home run in the ninth inning.”
The home run, ultimately, was too little, too late. And the fact that Nix didn’t just give up should not be celebrated – no one lets you quit in major league baseball. But Desmond seemed to get at the importance of that home run. Baseball seasons are long and hard and sometimes miserable, and it takes a professional focus to hit a home run when the game is basically over and you’re in a miserable slump and your heel is aching.
Nix’s home run changed the outcome only in a cosmetic way, but it may have provided a small lesson to some of his younger teammates. Maybe that’s just the clichéd narrative, and it doesn’t mean any of that. Or maybe that’s another sign of progress.
FROM THE POST
Davey Johnson should return as the Nationals’ manager, Boz writes.
In a 4-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, Johnson made a decision he immediately regretted.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES.
Syracuse 3, Pawtucket 1: Tom Milone allowed one run in seven innings on four hits and one walk, striking out eight. For the season, Milone has struck out 149 and walked 14. Matt Antonelli went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Harrisburg 9, Portland 3: Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with a walk and his 28th homer this season. Chris Rahl went 3 for 4 with a home run. Oliver Perez allowed one earned run in 4 2/3 innings on six hits and two walks, striking out five.
Potomac 11, Wilmington 3: Sandy Leon went 2 for 2 with a home run and a walk. Zachary Walters went 3 for 4 with a double. Michael Lozada went 3 for 4 with a double and two triples.
Hickory 5, Hagerstown 2: A.J. Cole allowed four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings on six hits and a walk, striking out five. Kevin Keyes went 1 for 4 with a home run.
Auburn 6, Mahoning Valley 5 (10 innings): Hendry Jimenez went 2 for 5 with a home run. Angelberth Montilla went 3 for 5. Bryce Ortega went 2 for 4 with a double.