- The Washington Times
Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Washington Nationals completed the first half of the 2022 season Sunday, and the 7-4 loss to the Marlins was emblematic of the rebuilding campaign thus far.

Despite Josh Bell’s go-ahead home run in the eighth and Victor Robles‘ game-tying single in the ninth, the Nationals were no-hit by Pablo Lopez through six innings, blew a ninth-inning lead and then lost in extra innings, falling to the visiting Marlins for the 11th time in 12 tries this year.

The Nationals are one of the worst teams in the majors with a 29-52 record, and it’s unlikely to get better as the summer wanes. The club’s 5.09 earned-run average and 63 home runs hit both ranked near the bottom of the big leagues entering Sunday. And even some of Washington’s best players — specifically Bell — are almost certainly on the trading block, while a rotation reinforcement like Stephen Strasburg isn’t likely to come any time soon due to his recent rib injury. 

Despite all the ugliness of the first three months, the Nationals made a decision Saturday to stick with the status quo in general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez by exercising their options for the 2023 season.

Principal owner Mark Lerner is extending a vote of confidence to the longtime Nationals executive and World Series-winning manager to at least see the rebuild through to next season. The decision to stick with the duo for another year could be significant considering the Lerner family is currently exploring a sale of the club. 

“Mike and Davey have been leading the Washington Nationals for several years and it is only right to continue with them at the forefront,” Lerner said in a statement. 

Both Rizzo and Martinez signed extensions with the team after reaching the sport’s pinnacle in 2019. Rizzo, who started with the organization in 2006, took over as general manager in 2009. Meanwhile, Martinez began with the club in 2018 and has a record of 295-332 with the Nationals.

“I’m just really happy that I’ll be here and I get to see this thing through,” Martinez said. “This is my home. I love it here. I love the people I work with.”

Rizzo orchestrated the rebuild that led to a decade of success, ending with a World Series ring. Now, the 61-year-old executive is in the middle of another rebuild, which he initiated last summer when he traded eight veterans at the deadline, namely Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. 

Another selloff is assumed this summer ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline, with Bell and Nelson Cruz being the hottest commodities on the Nationals’ diminished roster. Bell, who broke up Lopez’s no-hitter in the seventh, has been the best hitter on the team with a .918 on-base plus slugging, 12 home runs and a team-high 47 RBIs. Meanwhile, Cruz, who turned 42 on Friday, has bounced back from a terrible start and is now hitting .241.

Cruz being shopped was assumed when the Nationals inked him to a one-year, $15 million contract in March. But some Nationals fans hadn’t given up hope that the club would sign Bell to a long-term contract, although that seems unlikely now that the organization is focused on locking down 23-year-old superstar Juan Soto. 

Speaking of Soto, multiple reports surfaced last week that the Nationals have floated the right fielder a contract worth more than the $350 million deal that was offered last fall. How much was offered is unknown, but Soto told the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty that his agent Scott Boras and the Nationals are “going back and forth” and that he feels “good” about the developments. 

While he’s still having a good season, Soto isn’t putting up the otherworldly numbers that he normally does. Soto, who left the game in the fifth inning with a left calf injury, has a .226 batting average, .382 on-base percentage and .449 slugging — all career lows. Martinez said after the game that Soto’s calf was “tight” and that the team would evaluate him before Monday’s game. 

For the rest of the club, it hasn’t been all bad, even if the team is on pace for fewer than 60 wins.

Young shortstop Luis Garcia, who was called up a month ago after starting the year in the minors, is hitting .322 through his first 30 games. 

Catcher Keibert Ruiz, who the Nationals got back from the Dodgers in the Scherzer/Turner deal, has shown flashes in the batter’s box and behind the dish. The 23-year-old backstop threw out another baserunner Sunday — his 12th caught stealing of the season, which ranks second in the league on top of the four runners he’s picked off.

On the mound, Josiah Gray and Erick Fedde have handled some ups and downs to be the team’s most reliable starters. Fedde scattered three hits and three walks across six innings of two-run ball to keep the Nationals in the game.

But with a one-run lead in the ninth, closer Tanner Rainey blew his fourth save as he gave up a two-run blast to Marlins center fielder Jesus Sanchez with two outs.

Robles then kept the Nationals alive in the bottom half with a two-out RBI single, but Miami plated three runs off Carl Edwards Jr. in the 10th to seal the win.

“I know we’ve had a tough go, but I’m seeing some really good things. Our young players are performing a lot better,” Martinez said. “We had a plan coming into this year, so I think we’re in a good spot and I think we’re going to get better fairly quickly.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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