Though Dusty Baker had already made the call earlier in the week to sit Anthony Rendon for Saturday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals, his third baseman's recent torrid stretch at the plate nearly gave the Nats' skipper second thoughts.
"I hate to give a guy a day off when they're getting hits and starting to look good," Baker said before Saturday's game.
Still, he stayed true to his word, giving Rendon the day off and tapping Stephen Drew to take over at the hot corner.
"I told him [earlier] he'd be out Saturday. I said 'Give me all you got until your day off on Saturday,'" the manager said. "And he did."
Rendon's hot streak has been a much-needed sigh of relief for the offense, as his previous struggles were reaching the point where Nats fans might have wondered if he'd ever reclaim his 2014 form. That guy —the then 24-year-old who finished fifth in National League MVP voting and was once nicknamed "Tony Two-bags" — had been missing for the last season-plus as he battled either injury or inconsistency.
But since Rendon was dropped to sixth in the batting order, the almost 26-year-old has slowly started to resemble what he was two seasons ago. In the last 10 games, he's raised his average from .237 to .262 thanks to six multi-hit efforts that included four doubles, a home run and a triple. Baker noted that Rendon had been making great contact all along, and part of his breakout is simply getting those hits to drop.
"He's kinda been our hard-luck guy," Baker said.
Rendon had played all 49 of Washington's games prior to Saturday, prompting Baker to describe the day off as "much needed." And when he returns, the Nats have to hope he can continue to be a presence in a lineup that desperately needs someone other than Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy to produce consistently.
"He's looking good," Baker said. "He's looking real good."
Nats (29-20) vs. Cardinals (25-24) at Nationals Park
The Nationals are looking to bounce back a day after dropping Friday night's game to the Cardinals —their first loss to the Red Birds all season. After Max Scherzer's uneven outing, Washington will send lefty Gio Gonzalez to the mound to face a St. Louis offense that has had trouble with southpaws. The Cards have a slashline of .240/.322/.390 against left-handed pitchers on the season, so it will be up to Gonzalez to keep that trend going against an otherwise hot-hitting lineup. It could help that he has his personal catcher in Jose Lobaton back in the lineup after Wilson Ramos held those duties in Monday's 7-1 loss to the New York Mets.
Another wrinkle in Saturday's lineup is that Anthony Rendon will have the night off, a decision he made earlier in the week despite the third baseman's recent hot streak. In Rendon's absence, Stephen Drew will take over at the hot corner.
Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter will return to St.Louis' lineup after going on paternity leave for the first two games of this series.
First pitch: 7:15 p.m.
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 183
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzalez vs. Cardinals - Adam Wainwright
CF Ben Revere
LF Jayson Werth
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
3B Stephen Drew
SS Danny Espinosa
C Jose Lobaton
LHP Gio Gonzalez
1B Matt Carpenter
SS Aledmys Diaz
LF Matt Holiday
RF Stephen Piscotty
CF Randal Grichuk
C Yadier Molina
2B Jedd Gyroko
3B Greg Garcia
RHP Adam Wainwright
The New York Mets have acquired some help at first base by bringing in 10-year MLB veteran James Loney in a trade with the San Diego Padres. The return has not been reported yet.
Loney, 32, played the previous three seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has yet to appear in the big leagues this season after signing a free agent deal with San Diego in April.
The former first round pick is a solid hitter with a .285 lifetime average and has always been known for his defense. Last season he hit .280 with four homers and 32 RBI in 104 games for the Rays.
Duda is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a stress fracture in his back. He could be out for a long time, so Loney at least gives the Mets some insurance behind Eric Campbell, who is filling in at first but is hitting just .182 this season.