MILWAUKEE — Washington Nationals catcher Riley Adams stepped out of the batter’s box and held his hand up. Eric Young Jr., the team’s first base coach, jogged halfway down the line and did the same. On the top step of the visitors’ dugout, Manager Dave Martinez pressed a hand to each ear, signaling for a replay review after Lane Thomas was nailed trying to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park homer with one out in the seventh Friday night.
Maybe Milwaukee Brewers catcher Omar Narváez illegally blocked home plate. Maybe he missed Thomas’s back while swiping the tag. Yes, it was an overaggressive send from third base coach Gary DiSarcina, pushing too hard for a run with the Nationals down two. But in a critical spot, Martinez wanted to see whether, given a few extra looks from the umpires, the Nationals might catch a break.
Moments later, though, crew chief Jeff Nelson told Martinez he did not request the review within the allotted 20 seconds. Martinez contended postgame that the Nationals took only 17 before asking. And while the sequence didn’t decide Washington’s 7-0 loss to the Brewers, it sure did thicken the club’s “How to Fall or Stay Behind” file.
There has been no shortage of entries through 40 games.
“I definitely didn’t think I had a clear lane to slide,” Thomas said, pointing to what the Nationals wanted reviewed. “I know that rule is kind of finicky ’cause they can say the ball takes you into the lane. So I don’t know, but I thought it was weird we weren’t allowed to challenge. I know we were trying to.”
“We have a clock, too,” Martinez added. “As soon as the play is over, we start the clock. It was 17 seconds.”
For 5⅔ innings, Erick Fedde limited Milwaukee with a stream of cutters, cracking only when Rowdy Tellez rocked a first-pitch cutter for a second-deck, two-run homer. Fedde recorded one more out for the Nationals (13-27) and exited at 97 pitches.
Before he did, the offense was so stumped by Brewers lefty Eric Lauer that Victor Robles, Alcides Escobar and César Hernández each squared to bunt in a one-two-three fifth. Robles and Hernández got theirs down, leading to routine outs. Escobar pulled back and went on to strike out swinging on a high fastball. Lauer’s seven scoreless included five hits, five strikeouts and no walks.
“Re-watching it, it was a ball … but I personally wanted it up more,” Fedde said of the cutter to Tellez. “And I mean, I hate to say it, but when you get a guy out with that pitch twice and then he comes and he makes an adjustment, that’s on me to probably try to get him out a different way.”
After Fedde left the game, the Nationals erased a seventh-inning rally with an around-the-horn triple play, the second in club history. Carl Edwards Jr. was in a jam before Luis Urías skipped a hard grounder to Maikel Franco at third. Franco stepped on the bag and threw to Hernández at second, then Hernández turned and fired to Josh Bell at first. Edwards yelled and clenched his right fist. Washington, still trailing by two, had a chance.
The best opportunity, though, was when Thomas squared that ball into the right-center gap. In need of more than one run, DiSarcina could have held Thomas at third and hoped for a sacrifice fly from catcher Riley Adams, who followed the play with a single. But he took a risk that, in the end, yielded nothing but confusion around the ballpark.
“It’s a situation where Gary is looking at it, we’re trying to score runs, we haven’t scored any runs, it’s the bottom of the order,” Martinez said of the send. “What he saw and what I saw, the cutoff man didn’t have the ball yet, he was going to touch third and he thought he may have had a shot. But when you don’t score any runs, you’re trying everything you can to get a run across the plate.”
What happened after the action-filled seventh? In the top of the eighth, Nelson Cruz rocketed a ball foul to left, just missing a two-run homer that would have tied the game. In the bottom half, the Brewers stretched their lead against reliever Austin Voth, riding hits from Christian Yelich, Tellez, Hunter Renfroe (a two-run single) and Tyrone Taylor (a three-run shot to left). Voth notched one out and allowed five runs.
What’s the latest with third baseman Carter Kieboom? The 24-year-old will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery in Cincinnati on May 27, Martinez told reporters Friday afternoon. Kieboom has been sidelined since spring training with a flexor mass strain in his right elbow. And since the club headed north from West Palm Beach, Fla., he had been slowly trying to rehab the injury and avoid a major procedure.
But after feeling discomfort in a recent throwing session, Kieboom and the Nationals decided Tommy John was the best path forward. The recovery period is typically shorter for position players, meaning Kieboom could return by February and compete for a job in camp. Before hurting his elbow, he was supposed to do so with Maikel Franco in March — though Franco, who has played in all 40 of the Nationals’ games, is now even more solidified in that spot.
The surgery is another step back for Kieboom, who has been unable to establish himself in the majors. The former top prospect appeared in parts of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons. He has a .589 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 414 career plate appearances.
What’s the latest with Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross? Much more encouraging news. Both right-handers, who are on the same schedule, threw three innings and 43 pitches in a simulated game Thursday. If their bullpen sessions go well Saturday in West Palm Beach, they could make their next appearances in rehab assignments with one of Washington’s minor league affiliates.
Strasburg is still working back from the thoracic outlet surgery he underwent last summer. Ross is recovering from having a bone spur removed from his elbow in early March. From here, Martinez wants them to throw five innings, six innings and 90 pitches before joining the Nationals.
“It’s tough when you have those injuries and you’re in Florida, but the end is coming,” Martinez said. “Hopefully they’ll both be here sometime in the near future.”