Matt Adams delivers game-winning RBI as Nationals limp to 11-inning win in Arizona

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Washington Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, second from right, talks with training staff in the dugout after leaving the baseball game with an injury, during the second inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, May 10, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
By Chelsea Janes Chelsea Janes Reporter covering the Washington Nationals Email Bio Follow May 11

PHOENIX — By the time Matt Adams came to bat in the top of the 11th inning, two Nationals starting pitchers had pulled on cleats in case they needed to pinch hit. Matt Wieters had left the game with an injury and Ryan Zimmerman, thought to be available despite a sore back, had lingered on the bench long enough to suggest that he was not. Injuries were once again dealing backbreaking blows to these Nationals, a contender that had only just gotten off the ropes. But they did not go down.

Instead, they hung in, through between-inning tryouts for emergency catchers, to starting pitchers in the batting cages, and everything in between until Adams delivered the go-ahead run with a single against left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin. The Nationals never envisioned using Adams against lefties when all was well, but he worked all spring with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve in those matchups just in case.

Before he took that at-bat, Nationals Manager Dave Martinez told Adams he would “bet the farm” that he would come through. He singled through the left side to score Trea Turner for the go-ahead run in their eventual 2-1 win. Martinez got to keep the farm.

“That’s a great win against an unbelievable opponent,” said Martinez, whose starter, Tanner Roark, matched Zack Greinke blow for blow, whose team tied the game in the eighth and nearly lost it in the ninth and 10th — and who watched another regular likely stumble onto the disabled list. They are 21-18, but down their starting catcher, their starting first baseman, and more.

Wieters was a few yards off first base when it happened, a pain in his left leg that sent his arm into the air like a flare, calling for help. He limped and lurched his way back to first and arrived there safely, bent over and nearly crumpled on the bag.

“You know your night is over,” said Wieters, who thinks his left hamstring gave out, but he and the training staff won’t be sure until he gets an MRI exam Friday morning. The Nationals will have to add another catcher to their active roster before Friday’s game.

A few hours earlier, a few yards away on the railing of the Chase Field visitors’ dugout, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo announced that Adam Eaton underwent unexpected ankle surgery Thursday morning and will be out for the foreseeable future.

Rizzo didn’t even talk about when Daniel Murphy might return from his knee surgery, or when Brian Goodwin’s wrist might allow him to play, or when Matt Grace’s hip will allow him to make another rehab appearance, or . . . well, the list does not end there.

The ever-growing, ever-changing list of injuries continues to cloud the otherwise bright complexion of this Nationals season. In the end, they will either be doomed by those injuries or more dogged because of them. In Thursday’s game, they looked dogged in their quest to make sure they didn’t doom them.

This series, and the ones against the Yankees and Dodgers that follow next week, always represented a substantial challenge. They entered this four-game set in Arizona having won three straight series and nine of their last 11, seemingly trending upward, their early season injury fever starting to break. Apparently, it has not, and as the Nationals went hitless against Greinke for five innings after Wieters’s injury, missing pieces seemed to take a toll.

Haplessness against Greinke happens, and does not constitute any cause for lingering concern. In fact, Roark nearly matched Greinke zero for zero through seven innings. The only difference between them was Greinke’s RBI single in the fifth that gave the Diamondbacks a one-run lead.

The only reason the Nationals remained in the game was Roark, who threw 107 pitches in seven innings of one-run ball in which he scattered four hits against one of the winningest lineups in baseball after losing his catcher after two innings. Roark and Wieters had game-planned thoroughly. Roark and Pedro Severino only had time for a quick chat between innings. They made it work.

The Nationals’ best defense against injuries — their best defense against any threat, Rizzo would say — is their rotation. Over their last 12 games, Nationals starters have averaged more than 6⅓ innings per start and pitched to a 1.86 ERA. Those starters must keep doing that, as this offense is not currently constructed as it was originally intended.

Identifying direct correlation between injuries and diminished offensive production can be difficult, and the going answer around the Nationals’ clubhouse these days is that waiting for those who aren’t able to play takes accountability away from those who do.

Besides, injuries have not left gaping voids. Adams has emerged as a nightly threat filling in at first base and in left field. Howie Kendrick, filling in for Murphy, entered Thursday hitting .291, which is fourth-best among major league second baseman. Severino has produced more offensively than Wieters. That patchwork lineup got some help in the eighth, when Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley balked home the tying run. Then Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle combined for four scoreless innings to make sure the offense only needed one more.

That run proved hard to come by. As the game wore on, and Martinez sent pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson down to the cage to warm up as pinch hitters, Zimmerman stood in the dugout, too sore to swing. The Nationals are carrying an extra reliever, had lost Wieters, and ended up unable to use Zimmerman. They beat one of the best teams in baseball with a two-man bench.

“When those battles last that long,” said Turner, who scored the winning run. “you’d rather come out on top.”

It seems the Nationals’ already extended battle with injuries is just beginning. They now must hope they can beat them in the end.

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