By Sam Bush
There were no fans at Nationals Park yesterday because of the pandemic.
Which is a good thing because the Nats may have heard some boos.
The World Series champ Nats are 1-4 after losing three games in a row.
Missing slugger Juan Soto, they’ve scored a grand total of four runs during the skid, including a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays last night that included two outfielders colliding on a homer by Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., two errors by second baseman Starlin Castro that led to three unearned runs, and just one hit for Washington after the third inning.
“In a longer season, you get time to feel these things out,” said Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, who was caught stealing in the sixth, one of the gaffes manager Dave Martinez noted afterward. “Now it’s definitely magnified.”
There’s no doubt Soto’s absence is a big deal; he’s been out since opening day because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“We definitely miss him,” Turner said, “and we need him back.”
Martinez agreed, of course. But he also wanted to set aside the scoring issues, because, as he put it: “The hitting’s going to come and go.”
More worrisome to a skipper who turned around this club after it opened 2019 with a 19-31 mark were the other problems.
“The overall play. The defense. The baserunning. We’ve got to clean that up. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play better. Can’t make those mental mistakes. Those are mental mistakes to me. And we’ll get it,” Martinez said. “Sometimes when you’re trying to create something, make things happen, you start overthinking or over-analyzing, just trying to do something aggressively. I want these guys just to relax and play baseball. Just have some fun.”
Former Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark (1-0) got a win in his Blue Jays debut, allowing one run and three hits in five innings.
“The main thing: These guys know a lot about me,” Roark said about the Nationals, “so just keeping them off balance and keeping them guessing what I’m trying to throw.”
After hitting four solo shots in Monday’s series-opening victory, the Blue Jays tacked on two more off Austin Voth (0-1) — by Guerrero in the second, then Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the fourth. Voth went five innings, giving up two earned runs and four hits.
“I was a little bit off,” Voth said. “The off-speed pitches today weren’t as sharp as they needed to be.”
Guerrero, son of the Hall of Famer, drove a pitch toward the top of the fence, where outfielders Emilio Bonifacio — subbing for Soto in left — and Victor Robles both gave chase and jumped, knocking into each other. And so while Robles initially appeared to corral the ball with the webbing of his glove, the contact dislodged that red-and-blue piece of equipment from his left hand.
The glove and — more importantly — the ball ended up in the visitors’ bullpen, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead.
The Nationals tied it in the third when Adam Eaton followed Turner’s double with a single. The next baserunner Washington produced was via Turner’s walk in the sixth — and he quickly was caught stealing. The only other hit was Turner’s double in the ninth.
“Our pitching has been outstanding. Our bullpen has been good,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after his Blue Jays improved to 3-2. “I’m really happy about the first five games.”