- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The early-season story for the Washington Nationals — the on-the-field story, not everything going on with Juan Soto’s slow clearance from a positive COVID-19 test or the postponement of this weekend’s series against the virus-riddled Miami Marlins — has been about struggles at the plate combined with a vulnerability to the long ball.

That narrative continued to crystallize Tuesday as the Nationals lost in familiar fashion to the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-1, and dropped to a league-worst record of 1-4.

One day after starter Anibal Sanchez gave up all four of Toronto’s runs on four solo home runs, Nationals No. 5 starting pitcher Austin Voth allowed solo shots to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the second inning and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the fourth.

Washington’s batters seemed incapable of clawing back, and two errors by new starting second baseman Starlin Castro later in the game gifted the Blue Jays three insurance runs.

“Sometimes when you’re trying to create something and make things happen, you start overthinking, overanalyzing, trying to do something aggressively,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I want these guys just to relax and play baseball, just have some fun.”

The Nationals scored their lone run with two outs in the third when Trea Turner doubled to right and Adam Eaton drove him home on a single. But they followed that up with five straight hitless innings, broken up by another Turner double in the ninth that didn’t amount to the start of a comeback.

Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera and Eric Thames combined to go 0-for-11 with five strikeouts from the third, fourth and fifth spots in the order, which shone a spotlight on Soto’s absence.

“It’s tough. He’s one of our best hitters in the middle of our lineup,” Martinez said. “That takes away from a lot. I just can’t wait to get him back. But he’s not here. I trust the guys that we’ve got playing.”

Guerrero’s line drive to left-center was botched when Washington center fielder Victor Robles and left fielder Emilio Bonifacio both went for the catch and bumped into one another. It turned out not to be a violent collision, and neither were hurt, but the ball glanced off Robles’ glove and dipped over the fence.

Castro launched a throw too high to first for the would-be final out of the fifth inning and Howie Kendrick had to leave the bag to snag it. The error advanced runner Joe Panik to second, and Teoscar Hernandez drove him home on the next at-bat.

And in the seventh, Castro botched a grounder that gave Toronto two baserunners. After a double-steal and a walk, Rowdy Tellez smacked a 2-RBI single that put the game in the bag.

Because of Castro’s poor fielding, only two of the five runs that Washington pitchers allowed were earned runs — the two home runs off Voth, who recorded the loss in his first start of the year.

“They were just mistake pitches, honestly,” Voth said. “Both pitches were supposed to be glove-side, and I had them run back over the plate. Those are two good hitters and when that happens they’re going to make good swings and they’re gonna do damage.”

The Nationals will play twice more against the Blue Jays — but they’ll be the designated away team on Wednesday and Thursday. Because the Blue Jays’ temporary home in Buffalo isn’t ready for them yet, Nationals Park will host their first two “home” games of the topsy-turvy 2020 season.

Yes, that means Washington will bat first and even wear their road uniforms.

“Only difference is we’re going to be wearing gray pants,” manager Dave Martinez said with a laugh before the game. “I don’t know what color shirt we’re gonna be wearing, but we’ll have grays on at home, which is kind of weird.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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