The Nationals crushed the Brewers, 16-8, on a humid Sunday afternoon to win a series that should be among the first pieces of evidence submitted if there’s ever a congressional report on whether Major League Baseball has juiced its balls. The Nationals received at least one home run from their second through seventh hitters — eight in all, tying a club record — and bludgeoned the Brewers despite having every reason to be lethargic from Saturday night’s 14-inning marathon loss. They had slugged and slogged through a combined 11 homers, 19 pitchers and 29 runs in the Brewers’ 15-14 win, which stretched into the early hours of Sunday morning. The team itself seemed surprised at the lack of a hangover.
“Coming back and jumping on top of them early, that shows you what kind of team this really is,” Martinez said. “They’re relentless.”
While it was raining in the third, Anthony Rendon smacked a flyball to left and pinwheeled his bat toward the dugout. He apparently believed he hit a lazy popup and tossed the bat out of frustration. But as the ball carried out beyond the fence, the home run recast the move as an uncharacteristic and emphatic bat flip. His jog around the bases looked quite routine. The next hitter, Juan Soto, gave Washington back-to-back homers for the 10th time this season and the second time in the game.
“Our depth and the older guys in here kind of set the tone,” said right fielder Adam Eaton, who tripled, homered, walked twice and scored thrice. “Before the game, everyone kind of says one of those things: ‘Hey, we all get it. You’re all tired, but who cares? We’re here, let’s get the job done.’ Our veteran leadership is the key.”
The Nationals needed the blowout. The night before, they had erased four deficits — 5-0, 8-5, 12-11 and 13-12 — only to run into one they couldn’t overcome in the 14th. The defeat taxed the bullpen and stretched the roster so far that, if they had tied the game and brought it to the 15th, they would have sent second baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera to the mound, first baseman Howie Kendrick to second, left fielder Soto to first base and right-hander Joe Ross to left field.
The ultimate cost of the loss arrived Sunday morning when the Nationals placed struggling closer Sean Doolittle on the injured list with right knee tendinitis. This overshadowed any hope inspired by Martinez’s announcement that injured ace Max Scherzer was “probable” to make his long-awaited return Thursday at the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Doolittle, to this point Martinez’s most trusted bullpen arm, blew his sixth save Saturday by allowing four runs on three homers. The reliever, who hasn’t pitched a complete season since 2014, leads the majors in games finished (49) and was on pace for a career-high 72 appearances. Saturday pushed his ERA over his past 10 appearances to 12.00.
The continued struggles raised serious questions about the team’s closer role to many except Martinez.
“When he does come back, he’s our closer,” the manager said.
Meanwhile, Martinez said he wasn’t sure who would step into the role. He might play the matchups or ride the hot hand. He emphasized the new, healthy relievers the team traded for at the deadline — right-handers Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland — have shouldered heavy workloads, and he wants to protect them. The offense spared the manager from showing his hand, at least for a day.
Nationals starter Erick Fedde looked less than crisp, allowing four runs over five innings, but it hardly mattered, for both him and the team. When Scherzer returns, the Nationals must decide between Fedde and Ross for the fifth starter position, but Martinez dismissed this outing as an outlier.
“My feeling is, as of right now, he’ll be here,” he said of Fedde. “We’ll figure out how to work [him in].”
Fedde escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the first, and his teammates removed much of the stress of his subsequent innings. The Nationals scored four in the first, two in the second and broke the game open with seven in the third on three-run homers from Rendon and Brian Dozier and a solo shot from Soto. Eaton and Soto homered in the fifth, and Dozier did again in the eighth to cap a barrage that began as soon as the game started.
Trea Turner led off with a bloop single into right field that just fell in, and he eventually scored on Matt Adams’s rocket into the right field seats. The big first baseman stepped on home plate to complete his three-run blast and thumped the chest of Victor Robles, striding to the plate. Adams must have passed on the power to the young center fielder and the rest of the lineup. Robles followed with a homer — and the Nationals were just getting started.
“It’s not like the team was trying to do anything differently,” Robles said. “We came to battle, and the results were the results.”