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5 games in, Nats need to 'have some fun'

Fielding errors, mental mistakes plague reigning champs in loss to Jays
@jessicacamerato
July 28, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' 2019 championship run was filled with so many organic, uplifting moments. How many teams can say they have a "Baby Shark" etching inside their World Series rings? As much as the team would like to replicate the homers, strikeouts and dugout dances that led to its

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' 2019 championship run was filled with so many organic, uplifting moments. How many teams can say they have a "Baby Shark" etching inside their World Series rings?

As much as the team would like to replicate the homers, strikeouts and dugout dances that led to its first title in franchise history, there is a vibe -- the carefree baseball that looks so seamless -- that cannot be reconstructed with a simple formula. And now, after a 1-4 start to the 2020 season, the Nationals want to get that feeling back.

“We’ve just got to come [Wednesday], forget about everything else, get on the field and play baseball and have fun,” manager Dave Martinez said after Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Nationals Park. “Right now, it doesn’t look like we’re having any fun. We need to just go out there and loosen up and just have some fun.”

Box score

The Nats, like all teams around baseball, have faced obstacles this season competing amid a global pandemic -- and then some. A large swath of players were delayed in being cleared for Summer Camp workouts, star left fielder Juan Soto was placed on the COVID-19 injured list on Opening Day, Stephen Strasburg was sidelined by a nerve issue in his right hand and the team addressed safety issues by voting not to play this weekend in Miami.

And they played five games in the meantime.

“I think it’s difficult to shut it out, because it’s easy to complain,” said shortstop Trea Turner. “It’s easy to say, ‘Things aren’t going our way’ or, ‘This is tough.’ But it’s not just us going through it. … I think it’s a lot up in the air. I think it’s on us as individuals to come to the ballpark with a good attitude and try to make the most of it and enjoy each day. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to have fun. I think winning’s a little more fun than losing, obviously.”

Notes: Soto's 2nd negative; Nats' team vote

Martinez wants his players to “clean up the little things” they worked on in Summer Camp, as mishaps and missed opportunities have been noticeable early on. In Tuesday’s loss, Starlin Castro committed two errors -- both of which extended run-scoring innings for Toronto -- and Turner was picked off stealing second in the sixth inning. Most chances weren't even there in the first place; with four hits, the Nats were 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left three men on base. So far this season, the pitchers have allowed 10 home runs, as starter Austin Voth was tagged for a pair on Tuesday.

“You’re talking about good players,” Martinez said. “Starlin doesn’t typically do that, and I know that. Trea doesn’t get picked off like that. I know that. Sometimes, when you’re trying to create something, make things happen, you start overthinking or overanalyzing, just trying to do something aggressively. I want these guys just to relax and play baseball.”

Washington’s roster will get a boost whenever Soto returns, both in clubhouse pep and a power presence to the batting order. He received his second negative COVID-19 test on Tuesday, though he is awaiting clearance to make his season debut.

“It’s tough,” Martinez said. “He’s one of our best hitters in the middle of our lineup. That takes away from a lot. I just can’t wait to get him back. But he’s not here. I trust these guys that we’ve got playing. We’ve just got to play baseball.”

As the encore to "Baby Shark," there is a trumpet waiting to be played when the Nationals earn a celebratory moment, an idea inspired by Emilio Bonifácio. But the instrument has not been put to use yet. Rather than forcing the momentum of last season, the Nationals are trying to take this season game by game. The success will come easier when it transpires naturally, not when it’s imposed as a 2.0 of 2019.

“I have a lot of appreciation for what we did last year, because I don’t think anybody understands how hard it is to win just a regular-season game, let alone an entire postseason,” Turner said. “I know we’re not going to win every game. I know it’s not going to be pretty. If we coasted through this year and won another World Series, I’d be more shocked than anybody in the country or the world because it’s not that easy. I know that baseball’s a hard game, so we’ve got to keep putting together good at-bats, playing some defense, keep making pitches, we’ve got to fight and grind and do some of the things we did last year and don’t give up.

“I think we’ll end up in a good spot if we do that.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.