The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Offense comes up blank as Nats lose series in Juan Soto’s return

Padres 6, Nationals 0

Ildemaro Vargas was tagged out on a double play in the eighth inning, one of the few scoring opportunities for Washington on Sunday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Manager Dave Martinez looked to Keibert Ruiz with one out in the seventh inning to provide a jolt to an offense that hadn’t had much energy.

At that stage of the game, the Washington Nationals hadn’t scored and had only four hits. They had left two runners on base, but here was a spot for Ruiz to come through with another pair on. Ruiz fell behind in the count 0-2, then swung at a low curveball and hit a groundball toward Padres second baseman Brandon Drury.

Fans at Nationals Park groaned as the ball went into his glove, then was quickly flipped to shortstop Jake Cronenworth, who fired a strike to former Nationals first baseman Josh Bell to end the frame.

It was the Nationals’ MLB-worst 110th double play; they grounded into another in the eighth inning in a 6-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Since the start of July, Washington has won just one series.

“Some days you got to tip your hat off to their pitchers,” Martinez said. “[Starter Blake] Snell was good. I thought Ruiz’s pinch hit, he had a really good at-bat, just hit it hard to the second baseman. We couldn’t get nothing offensively going.”

How a future without Juan Soto became a reality for the Nats

The Nationals (38-78) have been flipping guys in and out of the lineup since the trade deadline Aug. 2, trying to find any mix of players who can produce. The only player who has hit consistently has been Joey Meneses, the 30-year-old who hit five homers in nine games after making his major league debut.

He added two singles Sunday off Snell to give him 14 hits, the most by a National through 10 career games. But Snell allowed only one more hit across six innings, and he struck out 10 batters. The Nationals swung at 55 of Snell’s 103 pitches and whiffed on 24 of them. On his fastball alone, the Nationals missed 15 of the 34 they took hacks at.

“Our plan was to make him throw strikes, and he did that,” Martinez said. “But his fastball location was really good, and his breaking ball was good.”

It wasn’t until the Padres (65-52) turned to their bullpen that the Nationals got anything going, but even then they squandered their opportunities. The Nationals ended the seventh with Ruiz’s double play and had another opportunity in the eighth when the first two Nationals reached base for left fielder Alex Call, who was called up before Sunday’s game.

But Call did what Ruiz did before; he grounded into a double play. And the fans’ groans returned.

What prospect is joining the Nationals? The Nationals, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, are calling up C.J. Abrams, the shortstop acquired in the Juan Soto trade. Abrams hit .232 in 46 games with the Padres this season but was optioned to Class AAA Rochester upon joining Washington’s organization.

Abrams will fill the spot of Luis García, who didn’t play for the second straight day after he hurt his groin Friday. García said after Sunday’s game that he felt better but still feels pain when he runs.

What has Call’s schedule been like in August? Hectic. The 27-year-old outfielder was claimed by the Nationals off waivers the previous Sunday. Fast forward to this Sunday, and Martinez batted him leadoff; he finished 0 for 4. Outfielder Josh Palacios was optioned back down to Rochester.

Since the beginning of August, Call was optioned to the Cleveland Guardians’ Class AAA affiliate Aug. 1, then designated for assignment Aug. 5. The Nationals claimed him Aug. 7, and he drove from Columbus to Rochester the following day and then played five games for Rochester. Then he took a 6:40 a.m. flight from Rochester to D.C. in time for Sunday’s noon game.

“There’s a lot of things that can always change in this game, but my routine stays the same,” Call said. “And if that’s the same, then I know I’m putting myself in the best position to be ready for whatever comes my way.”

How did Paolo Espino fare against the Padres? Espino allowed four runs over 5⅔ innings, with Martinez stretching him out to a season-high 109 pitches. His pitch count spiked because of 23 foul balls by the Padres and two walks that each resulted in a run.

He walked Cronenworth in the second inning, and Wil Myers singled with two outs to drive him in. The following inning, Espino walked Padres leadoff hitter Jurickson Profar before Soto and Manny Machado singled; Profar scored on Machado’s single to give San Diego a 2-0 lead. The Padres scored another run on a fielder’s choice by Drury.

Espino’s fourth and final earned run wasn’t exactly his fault. He looked to be out of the sixth inning unscathed when he got Trent Grisham to pop up to center field. But Victor Robles lost the ball in the sun, and the ball dropped right next to him. Myers singled in the next at-bat to score Grisham, ending Espino’s outing.

How did Soto and Bell do in the series? Soto finished 4 for 12 with a double and two RBI. Bell went 0 for 13 with three walks.

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