The Nationals’ offensive inconsistencies have certainly played a part in the team’s slow start. But when Washington’s bats are dialed in, runs can come in bunches. Such was the case Saturday night in a 13-6 win over the Houston Astros at Nationals Park.
“It was obviously a really good feeling,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “But I honestly didn’t know until I looked up on the board at some point during the game and said, ‘Four RBIs?’ ”
“I started doing the math, and obviously, once you realize that, it’s a good feeling.”
In the first inning, Hernandez fought off a pair of breaking balls to extend his at-bat with runners on first and second and two outs. Then he lined a single off Cristian Javier that scored Juan Soto with the game’s first run.
Hernandez faced a similar situation in the third — this time with runners on the corners — and hit a knuckle-curve from Javier that sailed into the Washington bullpen in right field.
The 34-year-old has been a consistent yet surprising spark in Washington’s lineup. He entered spring training competing for a spot as a reserve outfielder against Andrew Stevenson, who was eventually outrighted, and newly appointed front-office member Gerardo Parra.
He made the roster, backing up as a left-handed bat behind Lane Thomas and Victor Robles. But Hernandez became one of the team’s best run producers early in the season, leaving Manager Dave Martinez no choice but to keep him in the lineup and live with his occasional defensive lapses.
Such lapses came when Hernandez dropped a flyball off the bat of Niko Goodrum in the eighth inning, then misplayed a ball later in the inning that allowed Jose Siri to leg out a triple.
“We had some hiccups on defense in the outfield, and that can’t happen,” Martinez said. “We talk about that all time, and I addressed it, and I told him, I said, ‘Hey, if we’re going to win consistently, that’s got to stop.’ ”
Still, Hernandez is batting .337, which would be tops on the team if he played enough games to be eligible. He ranks fourth in RBI (19) — not too far behind Josh Bell, Maikel Franco and Nelson Cruz. All four players sparked the Nationals against the Astros (22-12).
Cruz picked up three hits, including a bases-clearing, three-run double with two outs in the fourth to give the Nationals a 7-2 lead after the Astros scored two in the top of the inning. Franco blasted a two-run home run in the fifth. The Astros added another run in the sixth, but Franco roped an RBI double into left field after Bell scored on a passed ball earlier in the inning. Robles’s two-run single capped a four-run inning.
“Everybody contributed,” Martinez said. “It was a good night offensively.”
What was the good and the bad about Erick Fedde’s start? Fedde looked off-balance for most of the night but was able to limit the damage against a stacked Astros lineup.
Fedde couldn’t find the strike zone in the first inning. After a strikeout to open the game, Fedde walked three batters in a row and threw just two strikes over a 14-pitch span while facing Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez. He escaped the jam by getting Kyle Tucker to ground into a double play, but he walked off the mound with a pitch count at 22, just seven of which were strikes.
“I’ve been grinding a little bit just over the last couple of weeks of feeling really right and maybe just trying to overdo things to try to feel perfect,” Fedde said. “And sometimes it just leads to missing my spots.”
He struck out five batters over the next three innings but also gave up three straight hits in the fourth and allowed the Astros to trim Washington’s lead to 4-2. He came out to start the fifth, but when he gave up a home run to Siri, his night was finished.
What’s the latest on Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross? Both right-handers threw two-inning simulated games Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla. Strasburg and Ross threw 27 and 33 pitches respectively. Strasburg’s velocity topped out at 92 mph; Ross reached as high as 95, according to Martinez. Strasburg and Ross will plan to pitch every five days as they work toward a return to the rotation.
How did Alcides Escobar feel after returning to the lineup yesterday? Escobar’s finger was sore after Friday night, so Dee Strange-Gordon started at shortstop Saturday. Escobar has been dealing with an infection under the nail of his left index finger that forced him to miss the first three games of the team’s homestand. Martinez noticed Escobar cringing on a few swings Friday but said if he feels better Sunday he will be back in the lineup.