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Jackson Tetreault is backed by big bats as Nationals beat Rangers

Jackson Tetreault tossed 99 pitches in six innings in his third major league start Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
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ARLINGTON, Tex. — Something about Globe Life Field — maybe the height of the ceiling, maybe the depth of the stands — makes hard contact sound a bit harder than it might elsewhere. Or maybe the combination of Glenn Otto and the Washington Nationals brought an aberration Sunday, when the Nationals scored six runs off the Texas Rangers’ starter and held on for a 6-4 win.

The Nationals’ hits and exit velocities against the right-handed Otto in the first: a 103-mph lineout for César Hernández, a 106-mph single for Josh Bell, a 104-mph RBI single for Nelson Cruz, a 104-mph sacrifice fly for Yadiel Hernandez, a 101-mph RBI double for Lane Thomas and an 86-mph flyout for Luis García, breaking the chain.

García did punch a single and a triple later on. Between César Hernández and Bell in the first inning, Juan Soto worked his first of four walks. He also singled in the second to reach in each of his five plate appearances.

“If I hit a single, if I hit homer or if I walk, I’m going to feel great about it,” Soto said. “Because I know I’m going to be around the bases and I know I’m going to be able to score for those guys who come behind me.”

Through two turns against Otto, Soto, Bell and Cruz — batting second, third and fourth — were 5 for 5 with four singles, a double, three RBI and a walk for Washington (27-48). Through four innings, they were 6 for 7 with another walk and Cruz’s 389-foot flyout to left-center. All the offense supported rookie Jackson Tetreault, who threw 99 pitches to limit the Rangers (34-37) for six innings.

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Tetreault, 26, held them to four hits, walked two and struck out four. Half of those hits came when he was pushed into the seventh inning. Tetreault exited after the second, a double for Kole Calhoun, leaving two in scoring position for reliever Erasmo Ramírez. And when Adolis García scored on Jonah Heim’s sacrifice fly off Ramírez, that snapped Tetreault’s streak of 14 innings without yielding an earned run.

It had stretched back to his debut against the Atlanta Braves on June 14. Tetreault has been rock solid ever since.

“It makes it easier to pitch when the guys jump out to big a lead like that,” Tetreault said. “You can kind of say, ‘All right, let’s attack these guys in the zone and try to get some early contact.’ ”

Could the Nationals have swept the series? There’s no way to know what happens if the umpires don’t miss a call on Cruz’s grounder to third in the eighth inning Saturday. But on Sunday, the Dallas Morning News reported the umpires were wrong to tell the Nationals the play was not reviewable, citing Major League Baseball officials.

Both Cruz and Manager Dave Martinez relayed that to reporters after the 3-2 loss, figuring the umps couldn’t use replay to see whether the ball was fair or foul in front of third base ump Chad Fairchild. Yet because it was touched by third baseman Josh Smith, the report said the umps could have reviewed the play, which occurred with no outs in a critical inning.

After the sharp grounder was ruled a foul ball, Cruz bounced into a double play to clear the bases, keeping a 2-2 tie intact. An inning later, Washington was edged on Adolis García’s walk-off homer. By Sunday evening, Martinez had not heard from MLB about the situation. He plans to inquire.

Why is Soto batting second again? “We’re getting all these numbers periodically, and analytically the numbers suggest that our best hitter should hit two,” Martinez said before Sunday’s victory. “He gets a lot of opportunities with guys on base, and that’s kind of where I want him. The other thing … it happened again where he was on deck and we couldn’t get him up there. I don’t want that to happen. If we have a chance to win a game, I want him up and not on-deck.”

That was the case in a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 17. After the Nationals put two men on base with one out, Thomas, the leadoff man, grounded out before César Hernández struck out. Soto, hitting third then, could only watch as the tying runs were stranded. And while he did enter Sunday just 7 for 56 with runners in scoring position on the season, Washington is trusting those numbers will turn.

What’s the state of the Nationals’ staff? A week and a half ago, it was down to its very last fumes, with Martinez publicly pleading for more innings from his starters. The Rochester Red Wings, their Class AAA affiliate, sent pitcher after pitcher. Going from 14 to 13 arms Monday felt like a dire rule change. But against the Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, many factors helped the bullpen catch its breath: days off Monday and Thursday; starts of 18 outs, 12, 16, 21 and 18 from Tetreault on Sunday; the shortest of those outings, four innings from Patrick Corbin, ending after six because of rain; and enough close games to keep Martinez focused on Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards and Steve Cishek, his top options.

Heading into the series finale in Texas, Francisco Perez had not pitched since June 17 (eight days of rest), Reed Garrett since June 18 (seven) and Ramírez since Wednesday (four). Ramírez pitched the seventh inning Sunday behind Tetreault. Perez had the ninth, though he was rocked for a double, single and Heim’s homer, totaling three runs, before Rainey notched an unforeseen save. A smaller bullpen could hurt the Nationals at some point, especially with how their rotation has fluctuated in the first three months. Yet weeks like this can still go a long way.

“Some of these guys, I know they don’t pitch much, but they have to get outs for us,” Martinez said, adding it was frustrating Perez couldn’t let him avoid using Rainey. “They’re a big part of our bullpen. They have to come in and get outs.”

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