The Washington Nationals’ 8-5 loss Saturday to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park was a case study. The defense wasn’t solely responsible for Erick Fedde’s inefficiency — he allowed four runs and walked four over 3⅔ innings and 79 pitches. But two Washington errors — and a few other miscues — hurt Fedde’s cause.
“It was very surprising, our infield didn’t throw the ball well today,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “I’m just going to chalk it up to one of those nights and come back tomorrow.”
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The Nationals entered Saturday with a major league worst minus-56 defensive runs saved. They also rank last in team outs above average (OAA), a metric that measures how many outs a team has saved based on fielding difficulty.
But Washington (49-91) has looked better recently, in part because of the play of CJ Abrams, the 21-year old shortstop who was a key part of the Aug. 2 deadline deal that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to San Diego. While Abrams’s bat has struggled at times, his defense has allowed Luis García to shift to second, and the two have formed a solid tandem up the middle.
Abrams has made the routine plays look smooth. And he has looked especially comfortable on more difficult plays ranging to his left.
With the bases loaded and one out in the first against the Phillies, Jean Segura hit a groundball past Fedde. Abrams snagged the grounder with his momentum carrying to his left. He stopped his body from drifting any farther to tag second base on his right, then avoided a sliding runner to throw out Segura and keep the game scoreless.
“His ability to make the adjustment and jump over the runner and then make the throw, I was just in awe,” Fedde said.
Joey Meneses and former National Bryce Harper traded two-run blasts in the third. A string of poor plays in the fourth by César Hernández at second — replacing García, who got the day off — allowed Philadelphia (77-62) to jump ahead 4-2.
First, Drew Stubbs hit a deep fly out to Lane Thomas in center field with two runners on. Segura, who was halfway between second and third, ran back to second to tag up. He didn’t draw a throw from Hernández, who had a chance to get Segura but instead lobbed a ball to second.
Then, Fedde could have been out of the inning with a double play ball. But Hernández’s throw to first pulled Luke Voit off the bag, which allowed Edmundo Sosa to reach and Segura to score after a replay review. Brandon Marsh then followed with a double and Hernández threw another ball off line that pulled catcher Riley Adams away from the plate as Sosa slid in just before the tag. Fedde was pulled soon thereafter.
None of those plays in the fourth were scored as errors, but Hernández made his first actual error in the fifth on a routine groundball from Harper. He threw the ball from the outfield grass in the shift and said he didn’t get a solid grip. The ball tailed, pulling Voit off the bag and allowing Harper to reach. Three batters later, Nick Maton hit a two-run homer off Andrés Machado, both runs going as unearned.
The next inning, third baseman Ildemaro Vargas spiked a routine throw from third that Voit mishandled. By the time the sixth inning was over, Washington trailed 7-2 after a Marsh homer. Kyle Schwarber added another blast in the eighth.
Washington scored two more runs in the seventh and brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth, but its offense couldn’t overcome its defense.
“None of us are trying to make any errors out there, and we’re all trying to make the plays,” Hernández said. “And tonight we were unable to and that’s just part of the game.”
What’s the latest on Cade Cavalli? The 24-year-old pitcher is expected to play catch next week as long as he doesn’t experience any setbacks over the next few days. After making his major league debut on Aug. 26, Cavalli was officially placed on the 15-day injured list on Aug. 31 with shoulder inflammation and shut down for two weeks.
Cavalli, the Nationals’ top pitching prospect, has continued to do strengthening exercises to stay in shape. Martinez said the team wants to take it slowly with Cavalli to ensure he enters the winter feeling healthy.
MacKenzie Gore (elbow inflammation), who Martinez said is scheduled to pitch three innings Sunday, hasn’t pitched in a game since the team acquired him in the Soto-Bell trade. Martinez said Saturday that Josiah Gray will have extra rest between his next start with two upcoming off days to manage his innings in his first big league season.