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'Frosh' faces spark depleted Cubs lineup

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

WASHINGTON -- The Cubs frosh passed their test on Thursday.

With Kris Bryant nursing a sprained ankle, Jason Heyward sidelined with a sore hand, Ben Zobrist beginning a rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee and lots of kids on the roster, manager Joe Maddon struggled to put together a lineup. He had a bunch of kids -- mainly freshmen and sophomores -- and they delivered.

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WASHINGTON -- The Cubs frosh passed their test on Thursday.

With Kris Bryant nursing a sprained ankle, Jason Heyward sidelined with a sore hand, Ben Zobrist beginning a rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee and lots of kids on the roster, manager Joe Maddon struggled to put together a lineup. He had a bunch of kids -- mainly freshmen and sophomores -- and they delivered.

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Rookie Jeimer Candelario hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh but the Cubs needed a three-run rally in the ninth to beat the Nationals, 5-4, and split the four-game series.

"It's good to see the freshmen and sophmores coming through today," Maddon said. "The frosh had a good day."

Not only did the Cubs get the win, but hopefully, with it some confidence.

"That's the kind of game -- they have to know they can do that, we have to know we can do that," Maddon said. "Young guys who have not been here a long time, they need to take that -- I don't want to say the leadership role -- but they have to get to the next level that, 'I belong here, I can do this, I can win.' Hopefully, we'll find out [Friday] if it has that kind of impact."

It was a day Candelario won't forget. Making his fourth consecutive start at third since he was promoted from Triple-A, he led off the seventh with his first Major League home run, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead. He had an even bigger at-bat in the ninth when he was hit by a pitch with one out. That started the Cubs' rally.

Candelario couldn't celebrate. He was plunked on the left knee by Blake Treinen, and the good news for the Cubs is that X-rays were negative. He was barely able to walk under his own power and has a contusion. His status for Friday is uncertain. His status in the game was clear -- he was done. Candelario walked slowly to first, and was easily forced at second on rookie Victor Caratini's ground ball. Javier Baez then singled and pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella smacked an RBI single.

Video: CHC@WSH: Candelario stays in game after getting hit

"There was no panic, no worry," La Stella said about the feeling on the Cubs' bench.

Jon Jay, the upperclassman in the lineup, then delivered a two-run double for the game-winner.

Video: CHC@WSH: Jay ropes RBI double to give Cubs the lead

Maddon wasn't sure who would play where in the ninth with Candelario unable to continue.

"When I saw him in the duogout, there was no chance for him to play," Maddon said. "When you lose him, you'll do whatever it takes to win -- [bullpen catcher Chad] Noble's got to play, [coach Franklin] Font's got to play. It worked out well. Tommy had a great at-bat and Jon Jay, struggling all night, then hits the ball in the gap."

Jon Lester started, and didn't factor in the win. He got to watch the drama.

"That lineup never gives up," Lester said of the Nationals. "They've got some boppers in there who put up good at-bats. It doesn't mater how it looks -- a win's a win."

Jay, who was 0-for-10 before his double, agreed that an inning like the ninth is something the youngsters can build on.

"That was big, especially for them to let them know we're never out of a game," Jay said. "No matter what's going on, you have to finish the whole game, 27 outs. That was a big experience for those guys and we have to keep building off of it."

The Cubs are one game above .500 (40-39) heading into Cincinnati. They've split four-game series against the Marlins, and now, the Nationals.

"I'll take that," Maddon said. "I know our record is not the best but our position in the standings is great, so I'll take that now over the record. The boys got it done today."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

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