What we learned from Nats' season-opening series

March 31st, 2024

CINCINNATI -- The Nationals were one out away from heading back to Washington with their first series win of the season. Instead, they will look to accomplish that this week at Nationals Park after dropping the series finale to the Reds, 6-5, on Sunday afternoon.

“We played the game well, we played hard, we fell behind, we came back,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish it up. We’ve just got to try to focus on trying to go 1-0 tomorrow. That’s all you can do. You do everything right for nine innings, you get two outs and things just don’t go your way.”

Let’s take a look at five things we learned from the first three games of 2024 at Great American Ball Park.

Finnegan looking to bounce back
With the victory within reach, closer Kyle Finnegan allowed back-to-back home runs on a pair of splitters to Will Benson and Christian Encarnacion-Strand with two outs in the ninth.

“It’s a tough one,” Finnegan said. “Two mistakes on a pitch that I usually execute pretty well. It hurts a little bit.”

The trouble began one batter prior. Finnegan delivered 10 pitches to Jonathan India, including seven consecutive fastballs, resulting in a double. That set the stage for the Reds’ comeback.

“[Finnegan is] one of the best closers in the game,” India said. “He throws hard. I was trying to get my pitch. He kept throwing high and away, high and in and wasn’t giving me anything to hit. Even the pitch I hit was a tough pitch to hit.”

Last season, Finnegan only allowed multiple home runs once, on April 4 against the Rays.

“I’m not ever going to question what pitches they throw,” Martinez said. “If he throws his splitter, he knows it’s got to go down. They were just up. Location was bad.”

Speedy Abrams encouraged to walk
CJ Abrams drew three walks in Saturday’s 7-6 comeback win, including a leadoff walk that started the ninth-inning rally. Taking free bases is an emphasis this season for Abrams, who stole a Nationals-record 47 bases last season.

“We talked about it with him: To hit that next level in his game, he’s got to accept his walks, he’s got to keep the ball in the zone,” Martinez said. “A walk for him is [essentially] a double, maybe a triple.”

Martinez saw former Nats shortstop Trea Turner have success when implementing the same advice. The trio of early walks is notable for Abrams, who had a 5.2 percent walk rate last season.

“I’ve just got to get my pitch. Don’t get myself out is the biggest thing,” Abrams said. “I always want to get to the next base.”

Trey came to play
Trey Lipscomb had a whirlwind 24 hours. On Saturday, he made his Major League debut at third base and shined on both sides of the field. The following afternoon, he belted his first big league home run.

“That’s what I was doing all Spring Training, which was battling with two strikes,” Lipscomb said. “Go up there, try to get on base, and he left one over the middle and I did some damage.”

The Nationals’ No. 16 prospect is leaving Cincinnati with three hits, one dinger, two runs scored and a stolen base.

“He’s done awesome,” Martinez said.

New-look outfield looking good
The outfield had two additions in the first series: Eddie Rosario in center and Jesse Winker in left. Both lefty-hitting veterans signed a Minor League deal and earned a spot in Spring Training. Rosario hit the Nationals’ first home run of the season off righty reliever Emilio Pagán on Thursday.

Expect defensive assignments to include center fielder Victor Robles throughout the season based on the opposing pitchers.

“I like it,” Martinez said. “They’re going to give us that left-handed bat against right-handed pitching, so they’ve done well so far.”

Gallo pursuing first hit
Joey Gallo began the season 0-for-12 with two walks and six strikeouts. The Nationals signed Gallo, who hit 21 home runs but batted .177 last season, to add power. He batted fifth in the order in all three games.

“I’m OK with him accepting his walks, this is just part of it,” Martinez said. “But I also want him to be more aggressive in the strike zone and when he gets a pitch he thinks he can launch, go ahead and let it rip. I love having him up there, I love the threat that he’s a guy that could potentially hit a home run for us.”

Martinez believes Gallo can establish consistency by being more aggressive with runners on base and driving the ball versus fouling off pitches. Gallo fouled off 37.6 percent of pitches he swung at last season.

“When you’re a guy like him that’s just a pure power hitter, you’re going to go through a phase where all of a sudden, you’re not missing those balls, and within a week, you hit five or six home runs,” Martinez said. “We hope that he finds that here real soon, but it’s going to happen.”