The Soto-led Padres took care of business Sunday with a 6-0 win over the Soto-less Nationals to hand Washington its fifth straight series loss. Wil Myers led San Diego at the plate with a pair of RBI hits, while southpaw Blake Snell twirled six shutout innings for his fifth win of the season.
Little that happened this weekend was a surprise. The Nationals struggled on the field. The D.C. fans welcomed Soto and former first baseman Josh Bell with cheers. And Soto played like his elite self, smacking at least one base hit in all three games and, of course, tallying four bases on balls.
“It was good to see those guys, it really was,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said about Soto and Bell after the loss. “I wish them all the best until we go to San Diego again. Especially for Juan, he meant a lot to this organization in a short period of time. Obviously, I’m going to miss them a lot.”
The loss deepened Washington’s hole as the worst team in the majors, dropping the club to an abysmal 38-78. The Nationals are now on pace to lose 109 games.
Three players got noticeably loud cheers from the crowd at Nationals Park during the lineup announcements Sunday. Both Bell and Soto were greeted warmly by the D.C. faithful, many of whom were wearing No. 22 Nationals jerseys to commemorate the superstar who was traded to San Diego less than two weeks ago.
However, the other player to get a positive reception was someone who most Nationals fans didn’t even know about two weeks ago: Joey Meneses, who was called up from Triple-A to replace Soto and Bell. Meneses, a 30-year-old journeyman with more than 1,300 games played between the minor and foreign leagues, is enjoying one of the hottest starts to a career in MLB history.
After homering on his debut on Aug. 2, he then blasted a long ball in four of the five games ahead of Sunday’s matinee. His final homer, a solo shot, came Saturday in the Nationals’ 4-3 win — only the team’s third triumph since trading Soto.
According to Baseball-Reference, Meneses’ five homers in his first nine games is the second most to start an MLB career since 1901. The only player with more was Trevor Story, who smashed seven dingers when he arrived to the show in 2016 with Colorado.
Meneses recorded two more hits Sunday to bring his total to 13 base knocks in his first 10 MLB games — the most in Nationals history. Soto, of course, was one of three players who had 12 hits in his first 10 games. Hitting out of the No. 2 hole, Meneses is now slashing .400/.447/.829.
“He’s got a great plan when he goes up to hit,” Martinez said. “Today, you saw that he got some balls away and hit the ball the other way. He makes in-game adjustments at-bat after at-bat. He does it really well.”
Aside from Meneses, though, the Nationals could only muster one other hit off Snell, who struck out 10 and walked none in his dazzling outing. The offense was better in the latter innings, getting two runners on in both the seventh and eighth, but both potential rallies were killed by double plays.
The loss was the ninth time the Nationals have been shut out this season.
“Snell was really good,” Martinez said. “His fastball had good life. He was pumping strikes. We couldn’t get nothing going. Our plan was to make him throw strikes, and he did that. But his fastball location was really good, and his breaking ball was good.”
Myers drew first blood off Nationals starter Paolo Espino (0-5) in the second with a double to score Jake Cronenworth. He then drove home the Padres’ fourth run with a single to score Trent Grisham in the sixth. The Padres’ other two runs off Espino came in the third on a Manny Machado single and a Brandon Drury groundout that scored Soto. The Padres’ final two runs came off reliever Tyler Clippard in the ninth.
Espino scattered seven hits and two walks across 5 2/3 innings. Despite the loss and having no wins on his ledger, Espino has been one of the Nationals’ best starting pitchers this summer with a 4.20 earned-run average.
“It was really nice,” Espino said about facing his old teammates in Soto and Bell. “[Soto] is unbelievable at the plate with his discipline. As soon as he sees something that is going to be out of the zone, he‘s taking right away. I was just trying to execute pitches on the corner.”
The Nationals are back at home Monday night for a three-game set with the Cubs.
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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