The Washington Nationals, with no margin for error, made too many


The sun was shining, a pitch hadn’t been thrown, and the World Series ring on Mike Rizzo’s left hand — roughly the size of a toaster — served as a reminder that anything was possible for the Washington Nationals once, and maybe it could be again. If you’re pessimistic in the hours before Opening Day, well, may the first beer of your season be eternally half-empty.

So with that nothing’s-gone-wrong-yet backdrop, Rizzo was able to assess what he foresaw for this group.

“I think our defense, especially our infield defense, has improved and will continue to improve,” Rizzo said. “I think that pitchers are focused on throwing a lot more strikes, having courage to throw it over the plate and let your defenders help you out.”

And then the defense and pitchers played the game.

“I got to be better,” said CJ Abrams, the shortstop who made three errors.

“Any time you’re ahead, get them aggressive, get them to chase — that was a big thing for us this spring as a group,” said Patrick Corbin, the starter who seems allergic to the first-pitch strike. “I think today we maybe got away from that a little bit.”

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There are going to be a lot of 7-2 losses for these Nationals, which was exactly the score against the five-time defending National League East champion Atlanta Braves on Tuesday at Nationals Park. With the lineup the Nationals employ — 3-4 hitters who were unwanted by their original teams and set free long before they were required to be — runs will be scarce. Joey Meneses can come up just four or five times a game.

But if these Nationals are going to play a brand of baseball fit to be consumed by the masses — and judging by an Opening Day crowd of 35,756, “masses” is open to interpretation — it can’t be the brand of baseball that so defined last summer’s aimless saunter to 107 losses. Yes, this is a 162-question test. But on the first query, the Nats whiffed — and badly.

“I can tell you now,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “They were a little nervous. I was nervous.”

Fine. It’s Opening Day. But if there’s a formula for this team to win some games, it’s both exact in its ingredients and the exact opposite of what played out in Game 1.

“The biggest thing that we did all spring was fundamentals,” Martinez said. “They know that with our pitching staff we have to catch the baseball. We can’t allow teams to get 28, 29, 30 outs.”

Count ’em up Tuesday. Twenty-eight, 29, 30. Ding, ding, ding!

“For me it’s about keeping things simple,” Martinez said. “I tell them all the time: Make the routine plays. … The simple plays have to be made.”

And that was before the game.

So go directly to Abrams, the 22-year-old of whom much is expected. With one out in the second inning and Braves runners on first and second, Corbin got Atlanta star Ronald Acuna Jr. to hit a grounder to Abrams’s…

Read More: The Washington Nationals, with no margin for error, made too many 2023-03-31 00:25:33

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