The announcement, the kind the Washington Nationals have prepared and delivered in some variation so often this season, came from a dejected Dave Martinez just shy of midnight Saturday night. He shared the news after his Nationals dropped a doubleheader to the Los Angeles Dodgers — a listless 4-1 defeat and an excruciating 5-4 result at Nationals Park — and it was expected.
Howie Kendrick, Washington’s most consistent hitter this season, had a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon, Martinez said. Kendrick had been carted off the field in the eighth inning of the day’s opener several hours earlier, the latest Nationals outfielder to succumb to a major injury. Kendrick, 34, was leading all Nationals regulars with a .303 batting average in 40 games. Surgery is scheduled for Monday. He will miss the remainder of the season.
“Not too happy but at the same time I can’t play the game any differently,” Kendrick, on crutches, said following the second game. “I mean, when it happened, I didn’t really understand what was happening, why I couldn’t move my foot at the time, but then once I found out it was like ‘Oh, crap.’ ”
Kendrick’s misfortune extended a merciless run of injuries to Nationals outfielders. At the major league level, Adam Eaton (ankle) and Brian Goodwin (wrist) have been on the disabled list for more than a month, and are joined there by non-outfielders Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters.
In the minors, outfielder Rafael Bautista, who spent two weeks with Washington earlier this season, suffered a season-ending knee injury playing for Class AAA Syracuse on Thursday. That came six weeks after Victor Robles, Washington’s top prospect, suffered a serious elbow injury on the same field in Rochester, N.Y. He is expected to miss most, if not the entire, season. The Nationals have six healthy outfielders on their 40-man roster — if you count Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds, two converted first basemen limited to left field.
“It’s definitely a blow,” Martinez said. “But we’ve got to get 25 guys, and those 25 guys have to keep playing.”
The team plans to promote 19-year-old outfielder Juan Soto, one of baseball’s top prospects, in time for Sunday’s game, according to a person familiar with the situation. It will be the third promotion this season for Soto, who rose to Class AA Harrisburg earlier this month and is batting .362 with 14 home runs and 1.218 OPS in 39 games across three levels.
Kendrick suffered his injury on a sacrifice fly that gave the Dodgers (19-26) their three-run lead in the split doubleheader’s opener, which the Nationals’ lifeless offense couldn’t overcome. Wilmer Difo logged the Nationals’ first hit since Tuesday with a bloop single to lead off the bottom of the third inning. Making his first career start, Spencer Kieboom then smacked the first pitch he saw to left field for his first career hit. Three batters later, Harper stroked a two-out single to score Difo.
An expanded strike zone helped both starters rack up strikeouts over seven innings. Dodgers starter Ross Stripling compiled a career-high nine while Nationals starter Tanner Roark tallied eight. The difference was the third-inning run was all the Nationals (24-20) could muster against Stripling. Roark, meanwhile, allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in the first, fifth, and sixth innings, and allowed each to score. Roark was otherwise effective, giving up six hits, walking one and throwing a season-high 117 pitches on eight days’ rest.
“I felt good,” Roark said. “I gave it everything I got because I know we have two games and we are going to need the bullpen for the second game, too.”
Ideally, however, the Nationals wouldn’t need the bullpen to carry much of a load in the nightcap, not with Max Scherzer on the mound. And they didn’t because Scherzer continued pitching like the best pitcher in the National League. He sealed his seventh 10-plus strikeout game — and the 71st of his career — in 4 ⅔ innings, and finished with 13 punchouts across seven innings on 121 pitches, his highest total in nearly a year, on seven days’ rest. Scherzer collected his 100th strikeout of the season in the fifth inning to became the fastest pitcher in major league history to reach that milestone, achieving the feat in just 63 innings. He has 104 in 65 ⅔ innings.
“It was like a college start, pitching once a week,” Scherzer said. “And plus I checked the schedule and I was going to be on six days’ [rest]. So I knew I was going to have the ability to pitch deep with a lot of pitches tonight.”
Scherzer finally got some run support with a sixth-inning resurrection Scherzer himself completed. Four Dodgers pitchers — Rich Hill started and exited after two pitches because of a blister, forcing Los Angeles to piece together 27 outs — had combined to no-hit Washington through five innings before Trea Turner drilled a leadoff double in the sixth inning. Reynolds later doubled to score Turner. A battle between managers followed.
After left-hander Tony Cingrani fell behind 2-0 on Michael A. Taylor, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts elected to issue an intentional walk and insert Daniel Hudson, a right-hander, to face the right-handed-hitting Pedro Severino. But Martinez countered with Adams, a destroyer of right-handed pitching, as a pinch-hitter for Severino — a somewhat surprising move because managers usually avoid replacing a catcher that early — and Adams smacked a two-run single to give Washington the lead.
Hitting for himself despite accumulating 108 pitches through six innings, Scherzer then squeaked a grounder up the middle for a single to plate another run for a 4-2 lead.
The cushion soon vanished. Sammy Solis surrendered a solo home run to Cody Bellinger in the eighth inning before Sean Doolittle, who entered with a 1.45 ERA and 9 for 9 in save opportunities, gave up a two-run double to Matt Kemp before recording an out in the ninth. A crestfallen Doolittle later assumed the blame for getting his signs mixed up with Kieboom.
“He puts the sign down, I kind of envision it in my head as I’m coming set, and I pick up home plate and he’s on the other side of the plate,” Doolittle said. “So I threw a pitch I wasn’t committed to. It was almost like I was trying to hit a moving target.”
It was a dispiriting conclusion to a dismal day for the Nationals, who hadn’t completed a full game in six days or played at all since Tuesday. It was a layoff they initially welcomed but detested by Saturday morning. They were itching to get back on the field, to resume the season’s rhythm. In one day, they were reminded of the cruelty that sometimes comes with it.