- - Tuesday, August 20, 2019

PITTSBURGH – Matt Adams crushed a 3-0 pitch into the right-field bleachers and then began a familiar trot around the bases Monday night.

The man nicknamed “Big City” and his heavy-hitting teammates have been jogging a lot the past few days, thanks to a record-setting offensive performance.

The Nationals hit four more home runs Monday against the Pirates, after tying a team record with eight long balls Sunday versus Milwaukee and hitting four Saturday. Washington set franchise records with 16 homers in those three games and 43 runs in that span.

“A lot of them were not gimmes. A lot of them were hit,” Adams said. “We are getting the barrel to the ball and getting a good pitch and not missing it.”

Washington scored at least 13 runs in four of five games and tallied 14 runs in the only loss in that stretch. Adams is now one home run shy of his career high after hitting his 20th of the season in the first inning Monday.

“(Adams) has done tremendously,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He is the consummate professional.”

Adams has seen more playing time at first base with Ryan Zimmerman unavailable since July 22 due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

“This is one of the most fun seasons that I have been a part of,” said Adams, who broke into the majors with St. Louis in 2012. “We started off a little slow and then everybody came together. It has been a lot of fun. You can see it on the field.”

Some people around the sport point to the offensive fireworks as evidence that this season’s baseballs are “juiced” to sail out of the park more easily. Adams admits the ball is apt to fly farther in the humid days of summer like the 95-degree day Sunday in Washington.

Whatever the reason, the Nationals are relying on power hitting and strong starting pitching to overcome other flaws.

Closer Sean Doolittle went on the injured list Sunday and the bullpen ERA was 6.00 through Monday’s game. The Nationals were a league-worst 2-6 in extra-inning games and 14-19 in one-run contests. Despite it all, they took a 68-56 record into Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh.

That is a long way from the Nationals‘ 19-31 start to the season.

Adams credits veteran leadership assembled by general manager Mike Rizzo and held together by Martinez.

“They are great baseball people and they know that (leadership) starts in the clubhouse,” Adams said.

Prior to the season, the Nationals added veteran catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Brian Dozier and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, among others. In May they acquired outfielder Gerardo Parra, who had been let go by the San Francisco Giants.

A bond was built in spring training. And according to Doolittle, it didn’t go off the rails when things got rough.

“The family aspect we talked about in spring training, everyone kind of bought into that,” Adams said. “We became close with the addition of Parra and getting Sanchez this year and everything those guys bring to the table. That goes a long way more than a lot of people understand. You want some veteran leadership that has been put in playoff pushes.”

Adams finished Monday’s 13-0 win over the Pirates 3-for-5 with four RBI. For the season, he has 56 RBI and a .251 batting average. While known for his hitting, Adams has been able to move his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame adroitly enough around the first-base bag defensively to aid other infielders.

Martinez credits the work he has put in with Nationals first base coach Tim Bogar at the corner. Bogar was a former Major League shortstop who also saw some action at first base as a pro. Those sessions are paying off.

“He is a really good defensive first baseman,” Martinez said.

Adams began 2018 with the Nationals before he was traded to St. Louis last summer.

“When the opportunity arose to come back and be part of this club I was super excited,” Adams said. “I wanted to be with a team that has fun and wins and goes about its business the right way and this team sure does that.”

He split time a year ago with Zimmerman, and that might be the case again down the stretch as Zimmerman could come off the injured list soon. The Virginia product was set to continue his minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac on Tuesday.

Adams is prepared for whatever role he is dealt – something he learned as a young player with the Cardinals.

“Stick with a routine that works,” the 30-year-old Pennsylvania native said.

And that routine is working for nearly every Nationals hitter these days.

The series continues Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. with Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin (9-5, 3.34) slated to pitch against the Pirates’ Joe Musgrove (8-11, 4.59). Corbin is 1-2, 4.19 in seven career starts against the Pirates, while Musgrove is 0-1, 0.00 in two games with one start against the Nationals.

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