- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Washington Nationals’ season has been filled with oddities and challenges through the first two weeks of MLB’s shortened campaign. The team’s record isn’t what it would like it to be. Several marquee players have missed time, either because of the virus or run-of-the-mill injuries. And because of postponements related to the pandemic, the Nationals have had all of their games so far at a near-empty Nationals Park with no fans in attendance.But a suspended game due to a tarp mishap?

That’s a new one — even by 2020’s standards for absurdity.

The Nationals’ grounds crew had trouble unrolling the tarp during a heavy but brief rainstorm, helping cause a two-hour delay before officials postponed Sunday’s game between the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles due to poor field conditions. Play will resume at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday, with the Nationals down 5-2 in the top of the sixth inning. The Nationals, having dropped their last two games to Baltimore, will try to avoid a series sweep when play restarts.

“For me, honestly, it’s part of this 2020 season,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It really is. There’s going to be days where you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it.”

Rain downpoured for only 15 minutes, but because the diamond went uncovered, the infield got soaked — forming deep puddles of water. The tarp was finally placed on the field after 20 minutes and once it was removed, the crew spent another hour-and-a-half trying to repair the diamond.

The sun reemerged, but Martinez said the field was deemed “unplayable” by MLB officials, causing the game to be suspended. The Nationals were originally set to begin another three-game series in Baltimore next week, but will now resume Sunday’s game as part of a Friday doubleheader with Washington being considered the home team when resuming the first game.

“They couldn’t get the tarp on the field,” Martinez said. “I feel bad for our grounds crew because personally, these guys, to me, are the best, if not one of the best. It’s just unfortunate that that happened.

“It wasn’t the actual rain because obviously it did stop raining,” he added. “It was the fact that we couldn’t get the tarp on the field. There is a rule that states that because of mechanical error the game is suspended.”

The stoppage overshadowed the return of Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, who made his season debut after missing the first two weeks of the season with a wrist injury.

In his return, Strasburg gave up five runs in the fifth. He threw 69 pitches, allowed seven hits and walked one batter.

With Strasburg on the mound Sunday, the Nationals starter was dominant until he wasn’t. Coming off a wrist injury, Strasburg looked in total command through four innings — mixing in his fastball, change-up and curveball to allow just two hits.

But that all changed in the fifth when Orioles center fielder Austin Hayes singled on a sharp line drive to right field. Hayes’ hit was the start of six straight base runners for Baltimore, with Strasburg allowing five hits and a walk.

Baltimore first got on the board with an RBI single from catcher Bryan Holaday, who ripped a fastball to left field. Second baseman Hanser Alberto then doubled to left, scoring two runs. Right fielder Anthony Santander added two more runs with a single to left field, causing manager Dave Martinez to yank Strasburg from the game. Reliever Javy Guerra got the final two outs needed to end the inning.

Strasburg called recovering from his injury is a “process,” and acknowledged his hand was still bothering him during portions of the game. The reigning World Series MVP was diagnosed with a nerve impingement in his wrist. He said he lost command of his fastball during the fifth inning.

“It’s a good place to start for me,” said Strasburg, who said he was choosing to see the positives in his performance. “We’ll get some good work in between and hopefully tighten things up for the next one.”

Facing a five-run deficit, Washington did answer back.

Starlin Castro, leading Washington in hitting with a .359 average, blasted a two-run homer deep to left field.

Any momentum generated from the homer, however, was soon halted due to the delay that took place with one out in the top of the sixth.

During the stoppage, Strasburg said he and teammates chose to “watch the show” of the grounds crew trying to fix the field.

“I don’t know if they can call it a rain delay,” Strasburg said. “It was more of a tarp delay. Add it to the list of 2020.”

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