They ended Thursday six games
back in the division and holding the National League’s top wild-card spot.
“He’s the constant in our lineup that makes things go,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said of Rendon. “And you saw it today again.”
Rendon dug in in the fourth, with the Marlins playing straightaway, and avoided them all by skying his 20th homer into the left field seats. That tied the score at 2. He then came up in the fifth, the infield drawn in to keep a runner on third, and slapped a single into center field. That gave Washington a lead it never lost. That helped hide an up-and-down outing by Aníbal Sánchez, who gave up two early runs but recovered for six solid innings.
And those hits, in the end, helped build a big enough cushion for a shorthanded bullpen. Gerardo Parra padded it with a two-run double in the sixth. Martinez used three relievers to create and escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth. Fernando Rodney filled in for a resting Sean Doolittle and notched another save.
But the Nationals’ effort first revolved around Rendon, for their 26th victory in 36 games, in what has become a very familiar script during their climb back to relevance. Rendon is dealing with a few minor injuries that could keep him from going to Cleveland for next week’s All-Star Game. They have not, however, kept him out of the lineup or slowed him at the plate.
“I talked to him today about maybe giving him a day off today because of the 11 o’clock start, and he wanted to play,” Martinez said. “But that’s who he is. He’ll work through these things.”
Sánchez’s command wavered at the start — he allowed a run in each of the first two innings — and it looked as if it might be a long afternoon for the 35-year-old right-hander. He began the season with an 0-6 record and 5.10 ERA in nine starts before going on the injured list. He had since responded with a 2.29 ERA in 35⅓ innings, including four wins, yet old habits showed up against the last-place Marlins.
Miguel Rojas started the game with a homer, his first of the year, on Sánchez’s fifth pitch, and Miami poked two more hits in the inning. In the second, Sánchez yielded a leadoff single to J.T. Riddle, Riddle advanced on a wild pitch, pitcher Elieser Hernandez reached on a Brian Dozier error, and amid the mess, a second run scored when Rojas blooped a cutter into center.
Washington got a run back in the bottom half on Kurt Suzuki’s solo homer, which gave the Nationals a home run in 18 straight games to extend a franchise record. They have hit 32 during that stretch.
But Sánchez’s pitch count kept climbing. It felt then like one of his early-season starts, when he would throw five rocky innings and the bullpen was taxed. And because Doolittle threw a season-high 33 pitches Wednesday, willing himself to a hectic save, the Nationals were already without their best reliever.
So Washington’s offense had to show up, and in a big way, to erase mistakes and help cover holes. And Rendon took care of that. He heated up with that solo shot in the fourth, lifting a 3-2 slider and leaving left fielder Harold Ramirez to watch the ball sail well over the wall.
“He’s real impressive at everything that he’s done, but in the end, this guy, he’s been doing that for a while,” Sánchez said of Rendon. “I’m happy for him, and I’m happy to be on the same team as him. I don’t have to face him anymore.”
Sánchez settled in, blanking the Marlins in the third, fourth and fifth, before Rendon unknotted the score with that bouncer up the middle.
Rendon’s future is surrounded by uncertainty these days — still unsigned beyond this season, still unsure whether he will head to Cleveland — but his role on this team is clear.
The Nationals go as he does. He brought them back Thursday, with a single swing, then pushed them ahead on another. He is five homers short of his career high, just days into July, and has 60 RBI with three games left before the all-star break. A lot more had to happen before a win was sealed Thursday — Parra’s double; Wander Suero, Jonny Venters and Javy Guerra pitching a hide-your-eyes eighth; and Rodney’s second save with Washington — but that shouldn’t obscure the constant here.
It all started with Rendon’s bat. That’s often the case.