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Joey Gallo’s 447-foot homer highlights Nationals’ win over Pirates

Joey Gallo’s 447-foot homer highlights Nationals’ win over Pirates

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

The Washington Nationals’ 5-3 win Wednesday night offered another reminder of the folly of drawing too many conclusions from the first week of a 162-game season. The bullpen, expected to be a strength but responsible for losses in their previous two games, was doomed? Joey Gallo, signed to bring power to an otherwise slap-hitting lineup, was washed after a rough March? Right-hander Trevor Williams, in a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation after a shaky spring, deserved to be counted out?

On a brisk, wet night at Nationals Park, the hosts rebutted each of those early assessments and handed the Pittsburgh Pirates (5-1) their first loss. The Nationals (2-3) did what they often did to win last year: string together enough hits to take a lead, then count on the bullpen not to let it get away.

The Nationals got things started in the second inning with Gallo, whose power has never been in question. He reminded the fans scattered in the second deck in right field just how far he is capable of hitting a baseball when he blasted a cutter from Pirates righty Mitch Keller 447 feet, ending an 0-for-12 start to the season.

No National hit a ball that far last season, per TruMedia. And, sure, Washington had signed Gallo to a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason in hopes that he could. But the slugger had hit .103 in spring training without a homer. He openly noted that he was in danger of not getting another MLB contract if this season went south. He had begun the regular season hitless. But he was the type of player who Manager Dave Martinez said would rattle off a hot week once he finally found his swing.

Gallo seized on Keller’s mistake in the middle of the strike zone, bouncing it into an empty row of seats in a section unaccustomed to seeing balls coming its way. Now, fans in that area might have to start preparing for that possibility when the 6-foot-5, 250-pound slugger steps to the plate. Gallo added a double and finished 3 for 4; he attributed his success to a simplified swing. He noted that he was trying to lift the ball too much during his first few games, even though his swing already has a natural uppercut.

“Thank God that I did something good,” Gallo joked when asked about his mind-set after the homer. “Sometimes it takes one swing or one game to just kind of feel something and get that confidence going, and then things just go from there.”

“I was expecting that from the first game in Cincinnati; we know he’s got tremendous power,” second baseman Luis García Jr. said through an interpreter. “I was very excited for him.”

Gallo’s blast trimmed an early deficit — courtesy of former National Michael A. Taylor’s two-run single in the top of the inning — to 2-1. By the time the second was over, García had driven in a run with the first of his three doubles and CJ Abrams had driven in two more with a hard single to right for a 4-2 lead.

The question then turned to whether Williams could hold that lead. After posting a 5.55 ERA in 144⅓ innings last year, Williams has a leash that might not be long, especially with what’s behind him. Righty Cade Cavalli is expected to return to the rotation this summer. There’s also young starter depth in the Nationals’ system, highlighted by righty Jackson Rutledge and lefty Mitchell Parker among others.

But Williams’s performance against the Pirates provided hope that he could hold things down until the kids arrive. Those two runs were the only he conceded in 5⅓ innings. He allowed three hits and two walks while striking out five.

“You see the writing on the wall. You see they’re not going to swing until I throw strikes,” Williams said. “Pitching in general, once you attack and once you get ahead, you’re in the driver’s seat.”

Martinez then went to his bullpen, an issue in the previous two games. Things started poorly when lefty Robert Garcia allowed a home run to Jack Suwinski on his first pitch. But Jordan Weems, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan pitched 3⅓ scoreless innings.

The win didn’t come without some concern, however. Victor Robles, in the middle of that second-inning rally after drawing a walk, came up limping after Abrams’s single to right. After the game, Martinez said Robles hurt his left hamstring and would undergo an MRI exam Thursday.

“I don’t want to assume anything, but he said he felt it pretty good,” Martinez said. “So we’ll see what the MRI says and go from there.”

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