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Nationals power past Marlins behind four solo homers, strong bullpen

It seemed that every time the Miami Marlins tried to inch their way back into Saturday’s contest, the Washington Nationals responded with a solo homer to make the gap a little wider. And when the offense calmed down, the bullpen took over.

The hosts pulled four homers into left field at Nationals Park — a pair landed in the seats and another two in the visitors’ bullpen — and Washington held on for a 5-3 victory. The win gave the Nationals their first series win of the season against the Marlins after starting the campaign 1-12 against their fellow National League East bottom feeders.

The Nationals (51-94) finished with just six hits — the four homers and a pair of doubles. Their scoring method was unconventional given their power numbers — Washington entered Saturday ranked 27th in MLB with 122 home runs.

“You’re going to have to win games all sorts of different kinds of ways,” said Alex Call, who hit the team’s fourth homer. “We have a team that can do that. Whether it’s putting together a few hits, hitting the long ball, grinding out at-bats, we got a lot of talented players and glad we could find a way to win today.”

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The Nationals’ offense was supposed to be built for power entering this season. The expectation was that Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz were going to anchor the lineup, with contributions from veterans Maikel Franco and César Hernández. Keibert Ruiz, in his first full season, was expected to deliver some pop as well.

Soto and Bell combined for 35 homers before being dealt to the San Diego Padres in the blockbuster deal at the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Cruz, who has 459 career homers, only has 10 this season and is day-to-day as he deals with left eye inflammation. He has struggled to get the ball in the air — his flyball percentage (28.3) is the lowest of his career.

Franco was designated for assignment last month. Hernández hit his first homer of the year earlier this month. Ruiz started to unlock his power recently but only had seven homers before going on the injured list last week. So Soto still leads the team with 21 homers as a National with 16 games remaining in their season; Lane Thomas entered Saturday’s game second with 15.

Thomas upped his total to 16 when he led off the bottom of the first with a shot to left-center field to give Washington an advantage against Trevor Rogers. Riley Adams extended the lead in the second inning with an RBI double that drove in Luis García. Adams would be the last batter Rogers faced before he exited with left lat discomfort.

The Marlins (59-87) scored when Brian Anderson hit a two-out single off Erick Fedde in the third to trim the deficit to 2-1. Then, Luke Voit — who has 21 home runs this year — responded with his eighth blast as a National, a skyscraper that carried just over the fence in left field and landed in the Marlins’ bullpen.

The cushion wouldn’t last long — Fedde allowed a two-run shot to Jerar Encarnacion with two outs in the fourth inning to knot the score at 3. Fedde couldn’t avoid long innings once again — he threw at least 16 pitches in every inning and more than 20 in three of those because the Marlins fouled off 21 pitches. He threw 87 pitches over four innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs.

But he was bailed out by the Nationals’ sudden power surge. Victor Robles took Jeff Brigham deep in the fourth, his fifth homer of the season. Call followed an inning later with a solo shot off Cole Sulser.

Washington scored in each of the first five innings, then didn’t record another hit after Call’s home run. But the Nationals’ bullpen wouldn’t budge. Hunter Harvey, Erasmo Ramirez, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan allowed just one hit and covered the final five innings. Finnegan struck out the side in the ninth to earn his second save in as many games.

“Home runs are beautiful and sexy, but I like the way we’re playing the game, period,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “This group doesn’t quit. They play hard for 27 outs, and today was a perfect example of how well they played.”

What did Martinez have to say about MacKenzie Gore’s rehab start Friday? Martinez said the first two innings of MacKenzie Gore’s rehab start Friday were strong, but he struggled with command in the third. Martinez said command issues are expected as Gore tries to find his rhythm again; he attributed some of his struggles to fatigue and not using his legs enough.

Gore has been sidelined since late July with left elbow inflammation and has been building his arm back up to throw in the majors before season’s end. Gore’s fastball velocity was in the range of 94 to 96 mph early in the outing, but it had dropped to 93 to 94 by the time he exited after 57 pitches.

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