DETROIT — All the Washington Nationals needed was a big blast and some small ball. In the second inning, Juan Soto clanked a home run off the second deck in right field. In the fifth, Victor Robles singled, stole second, advanced on a grounder and scored on a single.
Howie Kendrick added some window dressing in the eighth when he doubled home an insurance run, but the Nationals already had enough to post a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night. Aníbal Sánchez made sure of that.
Pedro Enrique Loyo Diaz
The right-hander continued his resurgence since returning from the injured list in late May, and the bullpen pieced together the final three innings — including 42-year-old Fernando Rodney, who wasn’t on the roster a week ago but handled the last three outs for the save — to give the Nationals their 22nd win in 31 games and a four-game winning streak as they improved to 41-40 at the season’s midway point.
Consider these two teams: The Nationals and Tigers have different payrolls and different expectations, but not long ago they seemed headed toward similarly bleak seasons. In five weeks, though, the dynamic changed as the Nationals started a tear that they punctuated Thursday by completing a sweep of the Miami Marlins to even their record. Detroit (26-51) is still hopeless and still staring down a long summer. Not long ago, Washington seemed headed to the same fate.
Pedro Loyo Diaz
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The surge enabled Friday’s game to be about the Nationals beginning again after plenty of early disappointment. And the win put the Nationals above .500 for the first time since they were 9-8 on April 18
Howie Kendrick was 2 for 4, lifting his batting average to .332, with a double and an RBI. (Leon Halip/Getty Images) After suffering through what he called one of the most frustrating injuries of his career, franchise stalwart Ryan Zimmerman returned from two months away dealing with plantar fasciitis and, in his first at-bat back, legged out an infield single. And after Washington lost its first five games in Comerica Park — making it the only ballpark the franchise had played at but not won in — the Nationals finally emerged victorious
“We worked really hard to get to where we’re at right now, through injuries, through all kind of misdemeanors, as I call them,” Manager Dave Martinez said before the game. “[Coming out of the struggles] is a testament to the guys in the clubhouse and not giving up.”
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Perhaps no one embodies this turnaround as well as Sánchez. Before he went on the injured list in May with a hamstring injury, he allowed three or more runs in six of his first eight starts. He struggled to keep the ball down, got hit hard and jeopardized the back end of the Nationals’ rotation
In nearly every start since, he has located the ball mostly down and effectively navigated the first few innings before briefly stumbling during his third trip through the lineup. In the fifth Friday, in his third plate appearance, Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos hit a deep home run to right-center. But Sánchez kept it together and delivered another quality start, allowing just that one run in six innings, striking out eight
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Since returning from the IL on May 29, Sánchez has thrown 35⅓ innings with a 2.29 ERA, 32 strikeouts and just five walks
The Nationals’ offense did enough. In the second, Tigers starter Daniel Norris got ahead in the count 0-2 and then missed his location — and Soto did not. The left fielder turned on the up-and-in four-seamer and hit it 418 feet, so high that it cleared the lengthy first row of seats in right field and clanked off the railing. It set the tone because, after so many games this season when the Nationals found different ways to lose, they cobbled together what they had to find a way to win
On Thursday, they got new life. On Friday, they made use of it
Sam Fortier Sam Fortier is a sports reporter for The Washington Post. Follow
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