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Sans Soto, Nats' new-look lineup splits series

@jessicacamerato
September 6, 2020

The Nationals entered a three-day, four-game series against the Braves at Truist Park this weekend looking to snap a losing skid and get back on track before returning to Washington. Following Sunday's 10-3 loss, the Nats left with a series split as they prepare for a six-game, seven-day homestand that

The Nationals entered a three-day, four-game series against the Braves at Truist Park this weekend looking to snap a losing skid and get back on track before returning to Washington. Following Sunday's 10-3 loss, the Nats left with a series split as they prepare for a six-game, seven-day homestand that includes a pair of contests against the Rays followed by a four-game rematch with Atlanta.

Box score

Here's a look at some key takeaways from the weekend series:

Stepping in for the outfield
Juan Soto missed the entire series because of left elbow soreness. He remains day to day. There’s no plug-and-play replacement for Soto, who leads the team in home runs (11), on-base percentage (.453), slugging percentage (.758) and OPS (1.211) despite playing only 27 games.

Josh Harrison started both games of Friday's doubleheader, but he exited Game 2 in the second inning after being hit by a pitch and sustaining a left forearm contusion. Utility man Brock Holt took over in left, where he started for the remainder of the weekend. He was 8-for-12 in three games against the Braves, while also turning in his best performance of the season on Saturday. Holt went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and an RBI in the Nats’ 10-4 win.

“There’s not many Juan Sotos,” Holt said. “Obviously, we’re a lot better lineup with him in there, but it’s just trying to carry your weight and do what you can to help out when you’re in there.”

Backup outfielder extraordinaire Michael A. Taylor took over in right field for the series after Adam Eaton jammed his knee stepping on first base awkwardly while running out a sacrifice bunt on Thursday against the Phillies. In Friday's Game 2 win, Taylor was 2-for-4 with a game-high three RBIs. He had also homered on Thursday after taking over for Eaton.

A new-look leadoff spot
Continuing to tinker with the batting order, manager Dave Martinez moved Victor Robles up to the leadoff spot with Eaton sidelined. Even with Eaton returning for Sunday's finale, Robles remained atop the lineup for the entire series, going 6-for-17 (.353) with three runs scored and a stolen base. He was also hit by a pitch twice and notched a pair of three-hit games. Batting first, Robles gives the Nationals a speedy baserunner with the hot-hitting Trea Turner behind him.

“I looked at some of his numbers from the Minor Leagues -- not that it means a whole lot -- but he did do well down there leading off,” Martinez said. “We’ll see. It could be something where I lead him off against left-handed pitching and lead off Eaton against right-handed pitching. You might see that. I kind of like it. He looks comfortable out there. When he gets on, he definitely makes things happen.”

Keeping it in the park
The Nationals allowed 12 home runs to the Braves, including two grand slams to Freddie Freeman. One area of improvement Martinez sees is pitching in to hitters. Another: Delivering when it matters most.

Freeman’s slam on Friday off Tanner Rainey erased a four-run lead in the fourth and forced the need for a late-game comeback. Freeman's shot on Sunday against Kyle Finnegan turned a two-run game into a 7-1 deficit in the sixth.

“One, it’s all about making pitches when it counts,” Martinez said. “We’ve left a lot of balls in the middle of the strike zone. When I go back and watch games, we’re not finishing our pitches, especially when we’re ahead.”

Bullpen boosters
Washington's relievers have been taxed this season as starters struggle to pitch deep into games. Neither Austin Voth (4 2/3 innings), Wil Crowe (2 1/3), Erick Fedde (3 2/3) nor Patrick Corbin (5 1/3) completed six innings in the series.

A possible long man emerged on Saturday when right-hander Kyle McGowin tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings in his first appearance of the year. McGowin earned his first career win -- and possibly a key role in the bullpen.

Righty Wander Suero also put in quality work at Truist Park. He tossed a perfect inning on Friday and another on Saturday, and he has recorded three consecutive hitless appearances.

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