Nationals break scoreless drought with 15-0 win
NEW YORK The fifth starter has been a black hole this season for the Washington Nationals, but rookie Jefry Rodriguez turned in his best start Sunday afternoon at Citi Field against the New York Mets.
The right-hander didn’t allow a run in a career-high six innings while giving up just two hits as the third-place Nationals broke through for eight runs in the eighth and six in the ninth and won 15-0, snapping a three-game losing skid.
Rodriguez (2-1) is filling the void left by No. 5 starter Jeremy Hellickson, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 18 with a right wrist sprain.
The Nationals (65-66) broke out in a big away after they had been shutout in the previous three games, including the first two contests of the series against the Mets.
The Nationals had not been blanked three games in a row since arriving in the nation’s capital in 2005. The streak of 32 innings without a run was broken when Trea Turner led off the sixth with a double and scored on an RBI groundout by Juan Soto to give Washington a 1-0 lead.
Soto drew a walk with the bases loaded in the eighth to make it 2-0 off reliever Paul Sewald. That brought up pinch-hitter Bryce Harper, who did not start since he was under the weather. He smashed a shot down the right-field line for a three-run double, giving the Nationals a 5-0 lead.
Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton (four hits) later added two-run homers for a 9-0 breakout lead. Difo also had an RBI single in the ninth to make it 10-0 and Mark Reynolds hit a grand slam for a 15-0 advantage.
Washington has been blanked 14 times this year, tied for most in the league through Saturday. The Nationals have now scored at least 10 runs in a game 13 times this year.
The Nationals had scored 25 runs in a game against the Mets at home on July 31 in a game that Steve Matz started. But on Sunday the Mets hurler allowed just one run in seven frames before his bullpen blew up.
“We can’t score a point. It’s frustrating. The offense, a lot of zeros. It’s like someone shut the door,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said after Saturday’s whitewash.
Washington entered Sunday 8 games back of first-place Atlanta and 5 games behind second-place Philadelphia. The Nationals are now 12-13 this month but 13 games under .500 since late May.
The last time prior to Sunday that Washington scored a run was on a walk-off homer in the ninth on Wednesday by Ryan Zimmerman against the Phillies.
On a crew chief review, Turner’s liner to left remained as a double as he led off the top of the sixth inning against Matz. Turner took third on a single by Anthony Rendon (three hits Sunday) and then scored on the Soto groundout.
The outing by Rodriguez was much needed by the Nationals, whose vaunted rotation has been hurt by a lack of organizational depth this season.
Hellickson became the fifth starter in late April and from that point, the Nationals rotation included ace Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez. While Hellickson (5-3, 3.57) has pitched well, other fifth starters have not.
Fill-in starters have included Erick Fedde (5.79 ERA in six starts), Tommy Milone (5.81 in five games, with four starts), A.J. Cole (13.06 in four games, with two starts) and Austin Voth (14.54 in one start). Rodriguez entered Sunday with an ERA of 5.46 in seven games this year, with five starts.
The Nationals went 2-5 on their previous road trip to Chicago and St. Louis and two days after that sojourn ended the team traded veteran hitters Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams to the Cubs and Cardinals, respectively.
For the Nationals to end the season 10 games over .500 they would have to win 21 of their last 31 games. Four teams ahead of them in the wild-card race had records 13 games over .500 before Sunday’s action.
Nationals reliever Kelvin Herrera injured his left leg while fielding a grounder in the last of the ninth. Koda Glover came on to get the last out in the blowout.
NOTES: The Nationals entered Sunday with a record of 13-23 against lefties and a record of 13-21 in one-run games ... The Nationals begin a three-game series Monday in Philadelphia as right-hander Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 4.23) is slated to start against Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.93) of the Phillies ... Washington reliever Ryan Madson (lumbar nerve root irritation), on the disabled list since August 14, could be activated during the Phillies series, according to Martinez.