Juan Soto homers twice as Nationals rally to beat Reds

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CINCINNATI — Washington Manager Dave Martinez said before Saturday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds that his recent message to his team has been a familiar one: Keep fighting. Yes, there are echoes of the mantra from the Nationals’ World Series run three summers ago, but Martinez also believes his offense is good enough to keep the team in games.

It also helps that his offense has Juan Soto batting third.

Soto hit two home runs—a solo shot in the fourth and a three-run homer in the seventh—to help the Nationals rally from a four-run deficit for a 10-8 victory at Great American Ball Park. While Soto’s second homer cut the margin to one, Maikel Franco’s ninth-inning single gave the Nationals the lead and Luis García (four RBI) added a two-run single for crucial insurance in the ninth, especially considering Tanner Rainey later allowed a ninth- inning home run to Brandon Drury.

Rainey held on to earn his seventh save.

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“We felt like, ‘Hey, we’re back in the game,’ ” Martinez said about the team’s approach after Soto’s second home run. “And then you start seeing the at-bats getting crispier and better. We started hitting the ball on the nose again.”

The Nationals (20-35) had 16 hits, two of which belonged to Soto, who entered the game hitting .223 and on a 2-for-19 skid. Soto has now hit three home runs in his past two games and leads the Nationals with 12 — eight of which have come with the bases empty.

“I felt pretty good,” Soto said. “I was just trying to put the ball in play, trying to help my team as much as I can. I just came in and got a couple barrels, and I saw the ball fly.”

In the third inning, Soto could have had a prime RBI opportunity but never got the chance. With Soto due up next, César Hernández tried to score on a Lane Thomas single through the left side of the infield, but Hernández was thrown out at home to end the inning.

Third base coach Gary DiSarcina’s decision to send Hernández looked even worse when Soto blasted his first home run of the game 423 feet to dead center field to open the fourth inning and trim the Nationals’ deficit to 2-1.

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Washington scored two more in that inning—with the bases loaded, Franco singled to tie the game and García hit a sacrifice fly to give the Nationals a lead.

The Reds (18-34) jumped back in front with a five-run fifth that included a grand slam from Albert Almora Jr. off Jordan Weems.

Two innings later, DiSarcina learned from his earlier mistake. Thomas singled with Hernández on second again, and DiSarcina quickly put up the stop sign.

Soto rewarded his faith with a 419-foot blast into the right field seats. García doubled in the eighth to drive in Franco and tie the game, and those two provided the final blows with their RBI knocks.

After the game, García did his postgame interview with an interpreter. But when asked about Soto’s home runs, he smiled and quickly said in English: “Unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

Why did Martinez get ejected in the ninth? Martinez argued with home plate umpire Gabe Morales after Hernández was called out on strikes to end the top of the inning. He said he was trying to protect Hernández from getting thrown out but once he was tossed, Martinez ran out to home plate and demonstrably got in Morales’s face.

What is Erick Fedde’s ERA after Saturday’s start? 4.88. Two starts ago, his ERA was 3.55. Saturday’s outing was the second straight start in which Fedde hasn’t looked like the version of himself that Nationals fans saw most of May.

Fedde struggled with his command and allowed two runs to score in the first inning. He allowed two runners to reach in the fifth before he was pulled — both runners eventually scored. Fedde had only one strikeout and didn’t miss many bats, a similar theme from his previous outing against the Mets on May 30, when he allowed six runs and eight hits over 1⅓ innings. On Saturday, the Reds swung at 32 of his 86 pitches and whiffed only four times.

What happened in the Reds’ five-run fifth inning? Weems entered the game hoping to record the final out of the frame for Fedde with two runners on and the Nationals ahead by a run. But Weems walked the ensuing batter and then endured an 11-pitch at-bat against Mike Moustakas, who fouled off six pitches.

Weems threw his 11th pitch of the at-bat past catcher Keibert Ruiz for a ball to walk in a run that tied the game. Then Almora launched a grand slam into the left field seats to give the Reds a 7-3 lead.

Did Martinez have any updates on Stephen Strasburg? No, at least not before the game. Strasburg hadn’t arrived in Cincinnati because he worked out in Rochester earlier in the day. Martinez wanted to wait until he spoke with Strasburg and Jim Hickey about how he felt physically and mentally before making any decisions about whether Strasburg makes his next start in the majors or makes another rehab start in Rochester.

Strasburg threw six innings of one-hit ball for the Class AAA Red Wings on Friday.

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