Rare home run against Sean Doolittle sinks Nationals


WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the San Diego Padres, 4-3, Friday night to fall to 11-13. Here are five observations from the game…

1. Carter Kieboom’s debut started quietly. He hit ninth and handled a ground ball in the second inning. He struck out looking in his first at-bat despite working the count into his favor at 3-1. A groundout to second followed.

The crowd -- which included his parents -- gave Kieboom a nice ovation both when his name was announced as part of the lineup, and when he came to the plate for his first at-bat. Things were quieter in his second at-bat. Everyone will remember his third at-bat.

Kieboom hit a 1-1 slider from former Nationals reliever Craig Stammen over the center field fence to tie the game in the eighth inning. Kieboom glided around the bases, slapped five with Bob Henley at third base, then came down the dugout steps to a celebration. There, Kieboom ran through high-fives and back slaps before a curtain call with both index fingers pointed in the air.

The joy was short-lived. Nationals closer Sean Doolittle gave up a solo homer to pinch-hitter Hunter Renfroe on a 1-2 changeup in the ninth inning. The pitch was outside, Renfroe was on his front foot with one hand on the bat. Yet, the ball kept traveling before sneaking over the center field wall. Doolittle flipped his glove in the air. He last allowed a home run June 19, 2018.

“Shocked,” Doolittle said of the outcome. “No offense to him, he did an incredible job of being able to get to that pitch and drive it out of the ballpark. I felt really good with the way I commanded the fastball the whole inning, but especially that at-bat. We took two shots up right before that, we went up and away and up and in, and his swings looked kind of defensive and we thought we had him kind of on his heels.

“And after throwing a good changeup earlier in the inning, when Yan [Gomes] threw it down I felt really good about it. And I thought it executed it well and when you get a guy that off balance, you don’t expect the guy to be able to do that kind of damage, and he barreled it up but seeing how far out in front he was, at contact I thought it was going to be a flyout. And then I turned around and it just kept going, so good process, bad result.”

The bottom of the ninth was interesting. Kieboom came back to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. He struck out on a 2-2 splitter.

“Talk about a whirlwind of emotions that was,” Kieboom said. “I entered the game from the offensive standpoint just wanting to stick with an approach. I stuck with it all night. Worked out once. I went with an approach and that’s what’s worked for me and that’s what I stuck with but it was an amazing night. It sucks that we lost. [Max] Scherzer pitched a heck of a game, put us in a great situation, gave us a great opportunity to win the game. We had it there in the end and just came up short but that’s the nature of the game sometimes and we’ll be back at it tomorrow.”

2. Scherzer’s early dominance set off those feelings associated with something historic.

He stormed through the first four innings without allowing a hit or a walk. The first batter of the fifth inning harmlessly flew out. Eric Hosmer followed and earned an 0-2 count.

To that point, Scherzer looked exceptionally sharp, a full rebound from his forgettable start in Miami underway. Then he threw Hosmer a fastball down the middle. Home run.

Scherzer said he wanted to throw Hosmer a high fastball. He also said Hosmer probably knew that and was looking for it.

The swing ended any no-hitter possibilities and broke up the perfect game. It also cut the Nationals’ lead in half. Scherzer gave up a game-tying run in the seventh when Manny Machado rolled a grounder through the middle. His final line: seven innings, four hits, two earned runs, no walks, 10 strikeouts.

“I shortened up my arm action just a little bit [since the last start],” Scherzer said. “And when I'm in a better slot, it allows me to really work through the ball a lot better. It affects every pitch. That's where I really felt like I was able to throw a good slider [Friday] and didn't really throw too many hanging sliders. So that was the good thing I was able to do over the past couple days, is make that little fix, tweak it, and just go forward.”

Scherzer did make history Friday, even if it wasn’t the kind his first few innings suggested. His sixth-inning strikeout of Manuel Margot was the 2,500th of his career. Scherzer is now one of 35 pitchers in major league history to strikeout 2,500 or more batters.

3. When the wind whips around the upper reaches of Nationals Park, it makes a loud howling sound in the press box if the windows are closed. The sound was prevalent Friday.

The noise also means things can be tricky on the field when the ball is in the air. Brian Dozier appeared well aware of this in the seventh inning when he let a Franmil Reyes pop-up drop in front of him with a runner on first. Dozier flashed his glove like he was about the catch the ball, before pulling back to allow it onto the shallow part of the outfield grass in front of him. Dozier then made an easy throw to second for the out.

Dozier’s decision allowed two things to happen. He didn’t risk the ball clipping off his glove and causing further problems. He also swapped the runners at first: Machado was out, the slower Reyes in. Later in the inning, Ian Kinsler struck out and Nationals catcher Yan Gomes snapped a throw to third base. Who was there? Reyes, who had ventured too far off the bag. Double play. Inning over.

4. Anthony Rendon returned to the lineup Friday almost a week after being struck by a pitch in the left elbow in Miami. The resulting bruise kept Rendon out for all of the Colorado series. Thursday, he came to Nationals Park for treatment and took swings. Afterward, he declared himself ready to play.

Rendon slid into the No. 3 spot in the order, which answered a question coming into this series: Where would Victor Robles hit when Rendon returned?

Nationals manager Davey Martinez previously said he liked Robles hitting ninth because it provided another form of leadoff man. Martinez also mentioned following the idea of Robles staying ninth in order to maintain his early success. He was comfortable. It was working. Leave it be.

Instead, Robles is hitting second for the foreseeable future, boosting his speed to the top of the order.

5. It’s the eighth inning. Tie game. Who is coming from the Nationals’ bullpen?

There seems to be no right answer this season. Kyle Barraclough was summoned Friday night in a 2-2 game. He walked the leadoff batter, allowed a single, and departed after acquiring one out and further ire from those rooting for the home team.

Wander Suero replaced him. A ground ball back to him could have been a double play. Instead, his throw to second pulled Dozier off the bag. He stuck a foot back in to narrowly get the out. A passed ball scored the go-ahead run.

At this point, there’s no right option for Martinez.



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