Off-season pickups jump start moribund offense after coming off COVID IL
Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell checked in for work for 2021 on Tuesday, a few days late, but they joined the Washington Nationals’ lineup just in time to help the team break a five-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over St. Louis.
Schwarber drove in two runs and Bell scored twice in three times on base to lead a reinvigorated Nats’ offense that had scored just five runs in its previous four games combined.
Manager Davey Martinez said having a full lineup made a difference from the time he texted out the lineup Monday morning.
“It’s huge,” manager Davey Martinez said in his post game Zoom call.
“We’re talking about guys in the middle our lineup that not only can they hit home runs, but they drive in runs, so it’s big.”
Playing his lineup and bench the way he had planned for this season paid off quickly.
“You can tell when things start clicking they start feeding off of one another. One guy gets on, the next guys wants to get on, the next guy wants to drive him in and it keeps going on and on and on.”
The key, Martinez said, was putting leadoff runners on base and driving them in, especially from scoring position.
“The biggest thing for me with those guys is the ability to take their walks. You saw Josh Bell do that tonight,” he said. “We talked a lot about that. Just take your walks, and just see pitches, and you’ll get in that groove, and they did that tonight.”
After a groundout in the second, Schwarber’s second-at-bat of the 2021 season came with the score tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning.
Juan Soto was on second after leading off with a single, with Josh Bell on first after a walk from Cardinals’ starter John Gant.
The Nats had put two on with nobody out just two innings earlier, and many times so far this season. But until now, they came away empty with no power behind Soto in the lineup.
But with Schwarber up this time, it turned out differently. The big lefty swinger got hold of a 1-0 sinker, pulling it to right center. Dylan Carlson could only cut off the hopping ball and throw to second before the Nationals claimed their first lead after the first inning since the season opener. There were still men on second and third and nobody out.
“When we came up with guys in scoring position I felt like we did a really good job,” said Schwarber. “I mean, it was a great job getting guys in, and had great at-bats.”
Next came another rarity this season for the Nats: a sacrifice fly, off the bat of Starlin Castro.
The only other sac fly this season came from Andrew Stevenson on April 6, in the Nats’ 7-6 loss in the first game of a doubleheader.
“I think it’s one of my goals. Try to put the ball in play, because for the most part I’m going to have people on base probably every at bat,” said Castro. That’s kind of the approach I’m working on with (hitting coach Kevin Long). Instead of take or see pitches, just be ready to hit right away because maybe it’s going to be my pitch and I can drive the guy home.”
That gave the Nats two in the sixth, their first multiple-run inning since Saturday in Los Angeles. They logged multiple runs in a game for just the fourth time all season.
Relegated to the bench by Schwarber’s reinstatement, Stevenson did his part with a pinch-hit solo home run in the seventh, his first of the season and fourth of his career.
Bell and Schwarber got back to work in the eighth, Bell leading off with a walk before Schwarber singled him to third and Castro singled to left to score Bell.
Schwarber’s two huge hits with the leadoff man on second came after Victor Robles led off the game with a triple and Juan Soto singled him in.
After days of futility with men on base, the Nationals had put a leadoff hitter on base three times and brought him home safely each time.
“I felt like a lot of guys had great at bats the whole night, working deep counts and making that guy grind out there,“ said Schwarber. “That’s contagious. Making that pitcher grind, and if you get a 5-6-7-pitch at bat, you move it on to the next guy and you might get that mistake.”
The Nats also used Ryan Zimmerman as a pinch hitter for the first time this season, sending him up with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth against Ryan Helsley. Zimmerman popped up to Carlson in shallow center, and Schwarber tagged up and tried to score on the play. Yadier Molina grabbed Carlson’s throw and put the tag on Schwarber up the line, more than a foot from the batter’s box.
Brad Hand’s first save opportunity of the season — seven games in — was a bit eventful due to some inconsistent umpiring, but not enough to spoil the save or the 5-2 win.
Martinez said the roster shift got the team moving in the right direction.
“We left Spring Training, we were in a good place when we left, we felt good, things were starting to peak for us at the end there, and then unfortunately things happened.” he said.
“Now we’re back together. We had a little bit of a fieriness in us and a little bit of momentum before the game, so we’re still missing one guy and we can’t wait to get him back as well.”