October 2, 2022

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Cruz, Hernandez swing hot bats in rout of Astros

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WASHINGTON — The Nationals snapped the Astros’ league-best 11-game winning streak with a commanding 13-6 victory Saturday night at Nationals Park.

“Every win right now is a good win, no matter who it is,” said manager Dave Martinez. “The Astros are playing well. We hit the ball well today, and that’s good to see. … We’ve got to be ready to play tomorrow and try to win the series.”

The Nats’ offense came out swinging and scored the most runs of the season in a home game, while their pitching kept the Astros’ dominant bats at bay. Here are three takeaways from Washington’s ‘W.’

Fedde overcomes early trouble
Before diving into the Nationals’ ascension up the scoreboard, this game could have gone very differently if Erick Fedde had not been able to work out of a first-inning jam. After striking out leadoff hitter Jose Siri, the right-hander issued three consecutive walks to load the bases as his early pitch count rose.

“He struggled in the beginning to throw strikes, and he was laboring the whole night,” Martinez said.

A mound visit from pitching coach Jim Hickey followed. Fedde then delivered a sinker to get Kyle Tucker to ground into a double play to the shortstop, escaping the frame without allowing a run — key for the Nationals, who improved to 9-11 when scoring first compared to 3-12 when their opponents do.

“He came out and said, ‘You’re one pitch away.’ And what do you know? There it was,” recounted Fedde, who allowed three runs on five hits and three walks, fanning six across four innings. “Sometimes, if you can keep the ball on the ground, you’ve got a chance. It worked out.”

Hernandez continues to do damage at the plate
Heavy-hitting left fielder Yadiel Hernandez recorded his fifth multi-RBI game of 2022 with four runs driven in, one shy of his season high set on May 1 at San Francisco. Hernandez put the Nationals on the board with a first-inning single into center field that plated Juan Soto. In his next at-bat, he homered with Soto and Nelson Cruz on, bolstering the Nats’ lead to 4-0 in the third.

“I feel great,” said Hernandez. “I honestly didn’t know until I looked up on the scoreboard at some point in the game and said, ‘Four RBIs? Who else has driven a run in?’ I started doing the math, and obviously, once you realize that, it’s a good feeling.” 

Hernandez thought he was pulling off the ball in the previous series against the Mets, and he made adjustments that are yielding results. He has hit safely in nine of his last 12 games with a .386 batting average and 12 RBIs during that stretch. 

“He’s been remarkable,” said Cruz.

Veteran Cruz comes up clutch
A scoring spurt that culminated with a big double began with small ball. Dee Strange-Gordon opened the fourth inning with a hustle single, followed by a bunt from Victor Robles. Both speedy runners advanced on a César Hernández sacrifice bunt, which brought Soto to the plate. The 23-year-old drew his 400th career walk to load the bases for veteran slugger Cruz, who walloped a three-run double off the center-field wall. This gave the Nationals a 7-2 cushion, which was enough of a gap when the Astros tried to chip away in later innings.

“That ball was hit really, really hard,” said Martinez. “I thought he knocked the wall down. … When he starts driving the ball like that to right-center field, good things are going to happen.”

Cruz finished the night 3-for-4, his first game with three or more hits since recording four hits on Sept. 7 last season as a member of the Rays. After a slow start to his first season with the Nationals, the four-time Silver Slugger is batting .400 with 10 hits, eight RBIs and two homers in his last seven games.

“I think [I’ve had] good at-bats,” Cruz said. “I was able to get the pitches that I want, lay off breaking balls and all that. I just have to stay healthy. That’s the bottom line now.”

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