WASHINGTON — It was the final week of April 2021 when Marlins first baseman Jesús Aguilar blasted his first home run.
The two-run blast came off of Giants left-hander Jake McGee in the ninth inning of a loss at San Francisco, but the swing got the slugger on track. Aguilar went on to crank out six homers in an eight-game span from April 23 to May 1.
It took Aguilar 19 games before he hit his first round-tripper that season. Aguilar faced a similar circumstance to begin the 2022 campaign, going without a homer for the Marlins’ first 15 games.
But in Game No. 16 on Wednesday night in Washington, Aguilar got a hold of an Erick Fedde 93.8 mph sinker and crushed it over the left-center-field wall at Nats Park to put Miami up 1-0 in the third inning. The homer proved crucial as the Marlins held on for a 2-1 victory over the Nationals.
Aguilar finished last season with 22 homers and 93 RBIs, tied for second in the National League before season-ending left knee surgery in early September. Could the demonstration of power on Wednesday night be the start of a long-ball hot streak for Aguilar, like what he accomplished to finish off April of 2021?
The slugger has not started this season from a power standpoint the way he would prefer. After cranking out 45 extra-base hits last season, Wednesday’s solo homer was his first extra-base hit of 2022, and his ninth hit in the last 12 games.
“Well, [he got] us on the board on a night like tonight,” manager Don Mattingly said of the low-scoring affair on a 58 degree night. “Aggy was the one guy. [Fedde] walked him early and got behind him in that at-bat. It was the one guy [Fedde] didn’t seem to be able to make pitches on and Aggy took advantage.
“Seems like he is seeing the ball better, getting more comfortable. I don’t think we’ve got our big boys going yet, and he’s the one — him and [Garrett Cooper] have started to roll a little bit.”
But when you have Pablo López starting, all you need is a couple of runs.
The right-hander surrendered just three hits over six scoreless innings, striking out six and walking one as Miami won its fourth game in a row. López has matched his career high with three wins in a row and has now pitched 18 1/3 scoreless innings in a row since the fifth frame of his start vs. San Francisco on April 9, marking the longest scoreless streak of his career.
“I feel real good,” López said. “I feel really happy with where I am feeling on the mound with the rhythm, the tempo, the way I’m breaking my hands the same time with my legs. I just feel like I’m in a good spot on the mound.
“I feel like I am taking full advantage of every single throw I make in between starts. I try not to take a day for granted. Like every day I am working on my mechanics, dry reps, making sure the body feels good and just making sure that every throw has a purpose, because in the game, you want every throw to have a purpose.”
Yadiel Hernandez’s double in the fourth was Washington’s only extra-base hit, and the only runner to get into scoring position against López. His ERA dropped to 0.39, second best in the Majors, and López’s 3-0 record is the best in four starts to begin a season since he entered the league in 2018.
Yet sloppy defense in the bottom of the eighth inning almost gave it all away.
Facing Anthony Bass with two outs, Cesar Hernández reached on an error by Aguilar after the first baseman bobbled the grounder toward the bag. Tanner Scott then induced a sky-high Juan Soto popup in the infield that wasn’t caught by Jazz Chisholm Jr. And then Josh Bell walked to load the bases.
Scott walked Nelson Cruz on a 3-2 count to put the Nats on the board. Anthony Bender arrived and induced a flyout to deep center field that ended the frame and preserved the lead.
The Marlins improved to 9-8, getting above the .500 mark for the first time in a 162-game season since Aug. 29, 2017, when they were 66-65. Miami is now 7-2 against the NL East, having won series against Philadelphia (3-1), Atlanta (2-1) and Washington (2-0). The club’s first series against the first-place Mets begins June 17.
“We talked about it before the game, that we had to get back to .500 to be able to start hopefully climbing a little bit,” Mattingly said. “It wasn’t easy but we were able to get one. We’ve had a couple games like this lately with [the] game on the line and our guys kind of finish it off for us. Right now things are going our way. We need to take advantage and keep moving on.”