New-look Nats line up for win against Cards

Soto (3 hits) fuels offense; Schwarber, Bell make impact in their 2021 debuts

April 13th, 2021

When the Nationals left Florida at the end of Spring Training, they were a team with championship aspirations. With a difficult first week behind them and three key players back in the lineup for the first time this season, manager Dave Martinez’s squad finally looked like itself again.

Washington snapped its five-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, matching its run total from the previous four games combined. , and returned from the injured list to make their 2021 debuts, helping the Nats get back into the win column for the first time since Opening Day.

“Things were starting to peak for us at the end [of camp] and then unfortunately, things happen,” Martinez said, referring to the COVID-19 outbreak that wreaked havoc on the club’s opening week. “Now we're back together; we had a little bit of fieriness in us and a little bit of momentum before the game. We talked about it; a fresh start for all of us. Our guys are back, so let's forget about the first six games and start today. We’ll go 1-0 today.”

Juan Soto did his usual Juan Soto things, picking up three hits and a walk while driving in the Nationals’ first run. But it was Soto’s new teammates who backed him up following his leadoff single in the sixth with the game tied at 1, displaying the damage this group can do when healthy.

Bell walked and Schwarber doubled, plating Soto for the go-ahead run. Bell came around to score on Starlin Castro’s sacrifice fly, giving the Nats a lead they would never relinquish thanks to a steady flow of insurance runs in the succeeding innings.

“I felt like a lot of guys had great at-bats the whole night; working deep counts and making that guy grind out there,” Schwarber said, seemingly referring to any one of the five pitchers the Cardinals threw at them. “That's contagious. Making that pitcher grind, if you get a five-, six- or seven-pitch at-bat, you move on to that next guy and he might get that mistake.”

Erick Fedde -- making his second start in place of Jon Lester, the lone remaining player yet to join the Nats -- granted his manager’s pregame wish by getting ahead of nearly every hitter he faced, throwing first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 18 batters he faced. He limited the Cardinals to just one run during his 4 2/3 innings, though a pair of one-out walks kept him from completing the fifth.

Soto, Bell and Schwarber combined to break the tie in the sixth, then Starlin Castro stretched the lead to two with a sacrifice fly. Those four players combined for seven hits, three walks, three runs scored and four RBIs, providing a punch the Nationals hadn’t seen often while suffering three shutout losses during the season’s opening week.

“We missed those guys,” Castro said. “It makes a difference when they're in there. I didn’t really know [they were coming back]; I just checked the lineup this morning and I saw those guys were playing. I had a really big smile on my face.”

Martinez thought Schwarber, Bell and Harrison needed a couple at-bats to get their timing back, noting they appeared to be “a little behind on some fastballs and little ahead on some breaking balls” in the early innings. Once they made some adjustments, the lineup began to produce the type of at-bats the manager expects to see in the coming weeks and months.

“It extends our lineup and extends our bench,” Martinez said. “You can tell when things start clicking, they start feeding off of one another. One guy gets on, the next guy wants to get on, the next guy wants to drive them in, and it keeps going on and on and on.”

Washington had more scoring opportunities on Monday night than in any game this season, finishing 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Although the Nats stranded nine men on base, that was the result of repeated opportunities; their 13 at-bats with RISP was almost double their previous season-high (seven).

“I'm really excited about this team,” Schwarber said. “I know that this team has got a lot of potential. We just have to go out there and execute, and we executed today.”