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Why might the Nationals let a runner steal third without a throw?

Dusty Baker and Chris Speier (right) are willing to shift with runners on, even if it means conceding a base like they did Monday. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)
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PHILADELPHIA — Among the more puzzling moments of Monday’s 4-3 Nationals win came in the first inning, after Freddy Galvis singled and moved to second on a soft groundout by Maikel Franco. Left-handed hitting Ryan Howard came to bat with two outs and a runner in scoring position. The Nationals shifted on Howard, as they usually do, moving Danny Espinosa to the other side of second base and leaving Anthony Rendon in the shortstop position — not near second and farther from third.

As Tanner Roark was looking in for the sign, long before he came set, Galvis took off for third. From the press box, it was unclear exactly what had happened. Did the Nationals shift in error? Was Rendon supposed to be closer to third?

Neither, it turns out. The Nationals chose to let Galvis have third base with two outs, trading a base for an increased chance of retiring Howard. Bench Coach Chris Speier oversees the Nationals’ infield defense, and in particular, their shifts. In that situation, he asked Baker whether or not he minded Galvis stealing third.

“We knew we were leaving it open, but it was two outs,” Baker said. “We wouldn’t have done that with one out or no outs.”

Pitching Coach Mike Maddux has placed a particular emphasis on holding runners this year, urging his pitchers to hold the ball and freeze runners in place. The Nats have allowed the fewest stolen bases in the majors this season entering Tuesday, tied for that honor at 14 with the Cardinals. The decision to concede a base Monday — and on a few other occasions this season when they shifted in similar situations — is obviously a calculated one.

“It just depends on who’s hitting and who’s pitching. It depends on the scoreboard,” Baker said. “Everything depends on the score.”

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