Sunday, September 29, 2019

There was just one box to check for Nationals manager Dave Martinez, whose team had a dress rehearsal Sunday afternoon for Tuesday’s wild card game.

That was the physical condition of catcher Kurt Suzuki — who passed the dry run splendidly with a home run in an impressive 8-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the regular-season finale. It was a season-high eighth win in a row, but the health of his team was more important for the second-year manager.

“Suzuki was the big question,” Martinez said. “The last few days he proved that he is ready to go. He is swinging the bat well.”

His two-run homer in the third inning broke a tie and gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead. Suzuki also started at catcher before giving way to youngsters Raudy Read and Tres Barrera.

The Nationals (93-69) hope Suzuki can play a key role when the team hosts the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday at 8:08 p.m. in the wild card game. The winner will advance to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in California on Thursday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

Washington was 19-31 in late May and became the first team in 105 years to go from 12 games under .500 and finish the season 24 games over .500. The Nationals are only the ninth team in history to make the playoffs after being 12 games under .500 at some point in the season.

“Every year in spring training, 30 teams set out to get to the postseason,” Martinez said. “That is the goal when you leave spring training. The boys did that; they are playing good ball.”

Suzuki, who dealt with right elbow inflammation, has played in just eight games this month with only 19 at-bats. But he has five hits, with two homers and a double.

Another minor concern was left fielder Juan Soto, who is hitting .114 in his last 15 games.

But the sophomore star smashed a run-scoring double Sunday and was 1-for-2. He ended his second season with 35 homers and 110 RBI at the age of 20.

“I have been working really hard the last couple of days,” Soto said.

Another nice feather to the season was right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett, who pitched the seventh inning and allowed a run on a wild pitch.

It was his first appearance at Nationals Park since 2015. Since then, he has endured several arm problems before returning to the minors last year and then making it to the majors with the Nationals earlier this month in a game at the Atlanta Braves.

“Being able to be back here in front of the home crowd in game 162, the fans were incredible,” Barrett said. “I felt their energy. It was definitely a special moment, for sure.”

The Nationals were just 33-42 this season against teams that had a record over .500. But all of that won’t matter in a do-or-die game Tuesday against the Brewers (89-73), who won’t hesitate to use a lot of relievers. One of their top relievers is lefty Josh Hader, from Millersville, Maryland.

“They are a tough team,” Martinez said. “They have been playing really well.” And so have the Nationals.

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