This wasn’t how the Washington Nationals drew it up at the start of spring, or the start of summer, or even the start of last week. At least not exactly.
But when the runs and hits were added up Monday — and nine innings, too — the highlights of a 7-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds looked something like this: Asdrúbal Cabrera, fresh off the scrap heap, extending a three-run first inning with a double. Gerardo Parra, once a nomad himself, knocking him in. Erick Fedde settling into an outing that nearly got away from him — and Fedde singling with two down in the fourth, just his third career hit, to set up a three-run homer by Trea Turner.
That swing, and a ball that somehow traveled 92.9 mph out of Nationals Park, gave Washington a bullpen-proof lead before the sun went down. Sean Doolittle gave up a first-pitch home run in the ninth, then an RBI double to Joey Votto, before stranding the tying and go-ahead runs to record his 27th save.
How’s that for a winning formula?
“Anybody who is part of a good team, or makes a run at the playoffs, has a deep roster,” Turner said, “and gets contributions from all over.”
Matt Adams did hit a two-run blast in the first, and Turner’s production is never a surprise. But most of the Nationals’ effort was scrapped together, all duct tape and glue, with a handful of their regulars banged up. The victory padded their lead atop the National League wild-card standings and brought them within six games of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East race.
The Nationals had limped home after a nine-game, 10-day, too-long road swing that left their energy wavering and roster thinned. Juan Soto rolled his right ankle in New York on Sunday and is day-to-day with a mild sprain. He was only maybe available to pinch-hit against the Reds, and he did not appear. Brian Dozier came down with flulike symptoms over the weekend and was out of the lineup for the third straight game. He did pinch-hit, working a walk in the eighth, but is having trouble eating.
Washington did get Howie Kendrick back from the injured list, retooling its bench, but it was also without ace Max Scherzer, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left-handed reliever Roenis Elías, who strained his right hamstring at the beginning of the road trip. Scherzer is scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday. Zimmerman has been hitting and jogging the bases, slowly, and didn’t predict when he may return. Elías is still working off flat ground. So the Nationals had to make the most of what they had Monday night. It felt a bit like April or May.
That effort started slowly when Fedde gave up a first-pitch homer to Jesse Winker. The game was seconds old, the clock still on 7:05 p.m., and the Nationals trailed. But Fedde worked out of a jam and found his footing, and Washington took its hacks against Reds righty Anthony DeSclafani.
Adam Eaton revved the offense by drawing a walk in the bottom half of the inning. Adams brought in Eaton and himself with a two-run shot. Adams, playing most days with Zimmerman out, has 18 home runs. Cabrera, filling in for Dozier at second, ripped a two-out double. Then Parra, filling in for Soto in left, singled in Cabrera. Fedde could breathe easy. The Nationals had erased the Reds’ advantage and constructed their own.
The rally suggested, in the span of three hitters, that the Nationals are deep enough to hand out blows while taking them. For most of this season, they have leaned heavily on Anthony Rendon, Soto, Turner and starters Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Fourth starter Aníbal Sánchez and Doolittle have shouldered big loads, too. But with the stretch run here, and a roster shaped for it, help is coming from many directions.
“For me, we don’t have bench players,” Manager Dave Martinez said of guys such as Cabrera and Parra. “We have role players, and they know what their roles are.”
Here was Fedde, still unproven as a fifth starter, pushing through six innings and giving up just two runs. He finished his night by hanging four consecutive zeros on the scoreboard. And here were Cabrera and Parra, aged and unwanted, combining for an early run. And there was Turner, lofting a home run that just cleared the fence, laughing about it in a dugout filled with more than a few measures of belief.
Tanner Rainey gave up a two-run homer to Aristides Aquino in the eighth, giving him eight in 11 games this season, to bring the Reds within 7-4. Doolittle soon finished them off despite struggling through the ninth. The 32-year-old closer was pitching for the fifth time in seven games. He has given up a career-high seven home runs. He has never thrown this much, this late in a season, and his left arm is fatigued ahead of a critical six weeks. But he managed to finish the series opener, and he plans to keep finishing games.
“I haven’t put together a season like this in a while. I’m starting to feel it a little bit,” he said. “But these are the nights where you got to dig deep and grind it out. Thank goodness we had a three-run lead.”
This was, in the end, a shaky win over a team the Nationals are expected to handle. Cincinnati is slipping off the edge of wild-card contention. Washington, still flawed but less so, is right in the thick of it. Yet consider these Nationals — where they once were, how they stumbled during their recent road trip, how they came into this week at far less than full strength — and some belief appears well-placed.
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