Nationals and Rockies split doubleheader

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Manager Dave Martinez joked after the Washington Nationals’ 13-7 victory over the Colorado Rockies to open a doubleheader Saturday that he wished he could bottle that offense and carry it over to the next game.

At times, the Nationals have shown they can score runs in bunches, as they did in Saturday’s first game. At other times, they struggle mightily to find clutch hits, leading to results such as their 3-2 loss in the nightcap at Nationals Park.

“We just couldn’t get that big hit with guys on base,” Martinez said. “These doubleheaders sometimes go sideways a little bit.”

Big hits theoretically can come from anywhere, but a strong performance by a player near the bottom of the order — say, Victor Robles — can provide the unexpected spark that this lineup needs. That’s what happened in the first game, when Robles drove in six runs, including three on a fourth-inning home run — his first of the season.

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As the ball left his bat, Robles made sure he had the perfect view to admire it, walking backward down the first base line. When the ball curved inside the left field foul pole, his backward walk from him turned into a backward skip, and then the center fielder flipped his bat before trekking around the bases.

“For there to be a lot of home runs, you have to hit the first one first,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m very happy today I hit the first one, so hopefully many more to come.”

Robles turned around a 1-2 curveball for that three-run homer. It was the No. 8 hitter’s first of the season — and his first him since Aug. 4, when he blasted one against Philadelphia.

Washington trailed early after the Rockies’ CJ Cron hit a first-inning, three-run moonshot off Aaron Sanchez. Nelson Cruz hit a two-run single in the bottom half before Robles worked a full count against the Rockies’ Austin Gomber and pulled a single into left to put the Nationals ahead 4-3.

The Nationals chased Gomber after 1⅓ innings. Maikel Franco’s double against reliever Ashton Goudeau brought home two runs, and Robles singled again to score Josh Bell and make it 8-4.

It has been a journey at the plate in his six-year career, and this season has been no different. Robles, 25, started 0 for 18 with seven strikeouts as he worked through swing adjustments with hitting coach Darnell Coles. He recorded his first hit April 17 at Pittsburgh, beginning a 13-game stretch in which he went 15 for 40 and raised his average to .259. But that had tumbled to .228 entering Saturday.

“It’s him putting in the time, putting in the work with [Coles] every day, and he’s swinging a lot better,” Martinez said. “We’re trying to get him not to chase and stay in the zone. He did really well today. He took some really tough pitches and he laid off them, which is great.”

Robles finished 3 for 4 to boost his batting average to .248. The Nationals had 14 hits, and all nine batters reached base — helping the team overcome another rough outing by Sanchez. He allowed seven earned runs in 3⅔ innings, inflating his ERA to 8.33 in seven starts, then was designated for assignment after the day’s second game. Stephen Strasburg is slated to make his second rehab start for the Fredericksburg Nationals on Sunday as he inches closer to a major league return, but it’s unclear who will fill Sanchez’s spot in the rotation until Strasburg returns.

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Robles couldn’t deliver the same offensive spark in the nightcap, going 1 for 4 with two strikeouts. Cruz put the Nationals ahead with a double in the first inning that scored César Hernández, who also doubled. Cruz is on a nine-game hitting streak in which he’s batting 15 for 32 (.469).

But after that, the Nationals didn’t score again until Yadiel Hernandez homered in the sixth to tie it at 2. The lack of support spoiled a solid outing by rookie Joan Adon and continued a trend. Washington had scored just 14 runs in his nine outings entering Saturday.

Adon trimmed his ERA from 6.97 to 6.08 over six innings in which he gave up six hits and two unearned runs. In the third, Brian Serven reached second base on a Franco throwing error and scored on a two-out single by Yonathan Daza.

Daza advanced to second when Robles missed the cutoff man — his throw bounced off the pitcher’s mound and over the head of Adon and catcher Keibert Ruiz, who was behind the plate. Charlie Blackmon made Adon pay for Robles’s error with an RBI single to give the Rockies a 2-1 lead.

After Yadiel Hernandez let the Nationals level the score, the Rockies took the lead right back with three two-out singles off Kyle Finnegan in the seventh, including the go-ahead hit by José Iglesias. Colorado finished with 10 hits — all singles.

Dee Strange-Gordon’s double to start the bottom half presented the perfect opportunity for Robles to produce again. Batting ninth this time, Robles attempted to bunt Strange-Gordon to third base but fouled off two pitches before popping out to the catcher on his third attempt.

“We didn’t want him bunting [with two strikes],” Martinez said. “He is seeing the ball; he is swinging the bat better. So we’d rather see him try to drive in a run.”

Strange-Gordon ended up at third later in the inning and Cruz doubled in the eighth, but the Nationals couldn’t drive in the tying run either time. Seven of the Nationals’ eight hits went for extra bases (six doubles and Hernandez’s homer), but they somehow managed just two runs.

Robles was the Nationals’ last hope in the ninth, but he struck out looking.

Whom did the Nationals bring up for the doubleheader? Washington called up right-handed reliever Andres Machado from Class AAA Rochester to fill the 27th roster spot. Machado has a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings, but Martinez has struggled to find situations to use the 29-year-old. He was optioned May 10 in favor of Carl Edwards Jr. Machado didn’t pitch in either game of the doubleheader but will remain on the roster after Sanchez was designated for assignment.

What’s next for Carter Kieboom? The infielder had season-ending Tommy John surgery Friday, and Martinez said it went well. He added that he believes Kieboom will be ready for 2023 spring training as long as his recovery goes as planned. The 24-year-old had been dealing with an issue since March and did not play elbow this season

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