Trading Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at the deadline last season was difficult for many Nationals fans to stomach.
It may get easier over time as pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz — the two main pieces Washington got in return — continue to develop.
Gray and Ruiz are believed to be two foundational pieces of the Nationals’ rebuild. But they also signaled a worthy return for half a season of Scherzer and one-and-a-half years of Turner — two players who weren’t able to push the Dodgers over the top to make the World Series last October.
However, none of that mattered this week when the two teams faced off for the first time since last July’s trade. The juxtaposition was too potent to ignore: A Dodgers franchise that perpetually goes all-in and currently sports an NL-best 29-14 record playing against a rebuilding Nationals club that owns the league’s second-worst record.
The scoreboard agreed in the first two games of the series, as the Dodgers pounded the Nationals in 10-1 and 9-4 victories on Monday and Tuesday. But Erick Fedde and the bullpen carried the slumping Nationals to victory Wednesday afternoon, combining to toss the team’s second shutout of the season in a 1-0 win.
“We’ve got to get a few of these strung together, and things will turn around for us,” Nationals closer Tanner Rainey said.
Fedde tossed six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out six, for his third win of the season. He leads the rotation with a 3.55 earned-run average — the only Washington starter with an ERA below 5.00.
“He threw the ball well,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “… He goes out there and he competes. Now, he’s got a little bit of confidence behind him”
Relievers Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan and Rainey followed Fedde to seal the victory. Rainey stranded two runners on base by getting Will Smith to fly out to the warning track for his fourth save.
“It’s great when you can hand the ball over and then watch three more zeroes go up on the board and hold the lead,” Fedde said. “We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to do that this year, so seeing them do that is something we want to see a lot more of.”
Washington’s lone run came in the sixth when Cesar Hernandez singled to score Victor Robles, who led off with a walk. The victory prevented the Nationals (15-30) from being swept for the third time this season.
Turner extended his hitting streak to 17 games and stole two bases Wednesday to cap his first series at Nationals Park since the trade. Turner, who is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, said Monday that he was surprised to get dealt last July, especially considering he had an extra year left of team control. He also said the changes the Nationals have undergone in less than a year is an example of the “business of baseball.”
“You look at the box score, and you see so many different names that I never played with,” Turner said.
Reliever Daniel Hudson, who recorded the final out of Washington’s Game 7 win of the 2019 World Series, also made his return to Nationals Park.
“I miss those guys tremendously,” Martinez said, about Turner and Hudson. “But as you know, this game moves on.”
In total, the Nationals parted ways with eight veterans at the deadline. The blockbuster deal that sent Turner and Scherzer to Los Angeles saw a quartet of prospects come back to D.C. Gray and Ruiz instantly became part of the Nationals’ big league roster and have displayed flashes of their potential so far this season.
“When we traded all those guys, we made an organizational decision that we were going to get super young, and we were going to transition to something different,” Martinez said Monday. “It was time to get these newer players, and it was a process when you get them to teach them how to play the game the right way in the major leagues. These guys are learning every day. They are both playing very well.”
Gray’s performance this season has overall been positive, leading the team with four wins and showcasing his ceiling with a 10-strikeout game versus the Marlins in April.
But the first two months of the season haven’t been without their speed bumps, and Tuesday’s start against his old team was the biggest one yet. The Dodgers tagged the 24-year-old for seven runs — all via the home run, including a two-run shot by Turner — in three innings.
“There were a lot of emotions, honestly,” Gray said after Tuesday’s loss. “Being traded twice already, I guess this was my first opportunity to prove myself against a former team. So obviously I let the emotions get ahead of me and didn’t control them.”