Lineup shuffle pays off as Nats blank Cards

April 14th, 2021

Manager Dave Martinez had a strong feeling this tweak of the Nationals' lineup could work. He was waiting for the right time to try it, and a matchup against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals jumped out at him.

For Wednesday afternoon's series finale at Busch Stadium, Martinez moved from leadoff to the No. 9 spot, and he shifted up to first in the order, to second and -- who started as fellow first baseman Josh Bell got the day off -- to the three-hole.

“I teeter-tottered a lot about hitting Soto second,” Martinez said before the Nats’ 6-0 win. “I kind of want to hit Soto second at times. I thought today with us facing Wainwright, those two guys had some good success against him, to get them up there and try to get them as many at-bats as possible against him.”

The plan worked. The Nationals’ offense ran smoothly as they bounced back from Tuesday’s 14-3 loss, gave Joe Ross run support in his standout start and headed back to Washington with their second win in three games, including their first regular-season shutout in St. Louis in team history. Turner, Soto and Zimmerman combined for five hits, four runs and four RBIs.

“I liked what we had going on today throughout the game,” Martinez said.

The luxury of being able to choose between Robles and Turner at the leadoff spot is that the selection really only matters in the first at-bat. After that, they are hitting back-to-back for the rest of the game.

“The name of the game is putting pressure on the other team,” Zimmerman said. “To have [Robles] coming up before Trea pretty much for the rest of the game ... gives you two leadoff hitters. ... If they get on the bases and then you have Juan, me, Josh, whoever’s hitting in the middle of the lineup that day, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for us to do some damage.”

It was Zimmerman who began the damage on Wednesday when he belted his 271st career homer to drive in Soto, who had singled, for a 2-0 lead. The top of the order continued to work in the fifth. After Turner doubled, Soto plated him with a single and a two-base error, and Josh Harrison singled to bring in Soto for a 4-0 advantage.

The Robles-Turner order helped add insurance runs in the sixth. After Ross added a single to his strong outing, Robles and Turner both drew walks to load the bases for Soto. The right fielder grounded into a fielder's choice at third, but he was fast enough to beat out the throw to first and drive in Ross.

After struggling to provide their starters with run support this season, the Nats gave Ross a cushion to work with as he struck out five and allowed just four hits and one walk in six scoreless innings. The right-hander, who elected not to play in 2020, is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts this year.

“That’s always going to be big,” Ross said. “We haven’t scored a ton so far this year, so I think just overall morale in the dugout was up, getting some runs earlier instead of kind of waiting until crunch time … Then it kind of gives me a little bit more confidence to go out there and try to get pitches to hit and work quick. … I think everyone on that front was kind of building off each other, and it worked out today.”

How often Martinez will roll out this lineup remains to be seen. The Nationals have a seven-game homestand beginning Thursday, with four games against the D-backs followed by another three-game series against the Cardinals. Martinez planned to spend the plane ride back to Washington evaluating his options.

“We'll see what happens tomorrow,” Martinez said. “But I'm gonna really dig into tonight on Arizona and see where we're at.”