WASHINGTON -- The Nationals did not worry about being disrupted by the Rays' unorthodox strategy of beginning the game with a reliever. They do not platoon much, so they were not worried about their lineup changing dramatically depending on the pitcher. Besides, if they scored early, as manager Dave Martinez pointed out, they would throw off Tampa Bay's strategy, anyways.
Washington pounced for five runs in the first inning against Rays "opener" left-hander Jonny Venters to cruise to an 11-2 victory Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park. Anthony Rendon, who turned 28 on Wednesday, collected four hits, and Michael A. Taylor had three as they drove in three runs apiece. Rookie Juan Soto reached base three times and scored a pair of runs.
But perhaps the biggest difference between these two teams was on display. Where the Rays must get creative with their pitching plans and starting rotation, few teams can match the Nationals' top four starters. Right-hander Tanner Roark tossed six innings of two-run ball as the Nats swept this brief two-game set between the two teams.
"Our starting pitchers are really good, so I'm glad we don't have to think about things like that," Martinez said prior to the game. "Just put those guys in there every five days and let them do their thing."
A few days after he made a surprise relief appearance in the ninth inning Sunday, which doubled as his bullpen session in between starts, Roark was solid once again. Martinez wanted to limit his pitch count a bit because of that outing, but in 84 pitches, he was able to throw six innings for the 11th time this season, making him one of just seven pitchers in MLB this season to record at least six innings that many times.
In so many of his starts this year, Roark has carried the Nationals' struggling offense to victory, but Wednesday he was able to cruise behind the Nats' offensive outburst.
"It just gives you a lot more confidence in your stuff and that you can go attack these guys a little more," Roark said of the early run support. "And not try to be too fine."
After scoring five runs against Venters and knocking him out of the game after recording one out, Washington collected 10 hits and scored five more runs (four earned) against left-hander Ryan Yarbrough in his 5 1/3 innings. The adjustment of facing a reliever to start the game did not seem to bother the Nationals one bit.
"The other teams don't [have to] tell us who's going to be their starting pitcher," Rendon said. "We're still going to prepare and watch film and talk about them like we would any other starter. It depends on them, how long they're going to go."
Soto continues to impress each time he takes the field, and he finished the day 2-for-4 with a single, double and RBI. He has now hit safely in 10 of his 15 starts this season.
"Talented, talented young player," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "What is he, 19 years old? I can't imagine too many guys coming up there and showing the type of comfort that he's shown at the plate. He definitely looks the part ... to be doing this at age 19 speaks volumes about how talented he is."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Tampa Bay challenged a call in the fourth when Bryce Harper was called safe at second base after tripping en route to the base. Harper's helmet flew off and his hair flopped forward as he attempted to reach the base safely without getting tagged. Following a review of 36 seconds, the call was overturned and Harper was ruled out. More >
HE SAID IT
"Maybe my birthday should be every day." -- Rendon, on collecting four hits on his 28th birthday
After an off-day, the Nationals welcome the Giants to Washington on Friday for the start of a three-game series at Nationals Park. Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for his first start against San Francisco since 2016. Left-hander Andrew Suarez will be the opposing pitcher; first pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.