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In Wil Crowe’s major league debut, the Nationals settle for a doubleheader split vs. the Marlins

None of Crowe, Romero or Bacus had thrown a major league pitch before 2020. This season, set against the novel coronavirus pandemic and now stuffed with injuries to key players, is about making the most of moving parts. And in the second leg of a doubleheader, that brought just a few growing pains.

The Nationals split the twin bill, beating the Marlins, 5-4, in the seven-inning opener. Then Crowe made his major league debut and was relieved by Romero, who was relieved by Bacus before Manager Dave Martinez called in Wander Suero to break the streak. The three rookies left the Nationals in a two-run hole. The offense couldn’t find the hits to erase it, and Washington dropped to 10-14 as the Marlins improved to 11-10.

“You’re going to see a lot of teams giving younger players opportunities because of injuries, because of illness, different kinds of things,” Martinez said. “For me, it’s kind of fun to watch these guys come up and learn and grow because these guys are going to be with us for a while.”

Before Crowe warmed at 7:30 p.m., with each throw popping through an empty stadium, the Nationals just squeaked past Miami in the opener. They jumped ahead early and tacked on in the middle innings. Trea Turner reached three times, scoring in the first and third, and Josh Harrison chipped in two singles and an RBI. Washington looked ready to coast.

But Max Scherzer put the lead on life support in the fifth. He entered the inning at 77 pitches. He would exit it at 108, after the Marlins went double, single, two-run homer by Matt Joyce, single, single, hit batter and walk on four pitches. That’s when Martinez hooked Scherzer, even though the manager visited the mound before the right-hander plunked Brian Anderson with an inside fastball.

Scherzer was bailed out by Kyle Finnegan, who struck out Jorge Alfaro looking to leave the bases loaded. Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson retired the last six batters in order.

“I train for those situations,” said Scherzer, who has faltered in the late innings of his past two outings. “I’ve had success in those situations, and the fact that there have been a couple times where I haven’t had success doesn’t mean I’m going to continue to have failure.”

When Crowe threw his first pitch in the nightcap, an outside fastball to Jonathan Villar, he became the fifth player to debut for the Nationals this summer. He was preceded by Finnegan, Romero, Bacus and Luis García, who replaced second baseman Starlin Castro after the veteran broke his right wrist Aug. 14. And Crowe joined the mix since Eric Fedde, the usual spot starter, is filling Stephen Strasburg’s rotation spot.

Strasburg was put on the 60-day IL on Saturday with carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand. He will have surgery this week and is almost certainly finished for the year. It reflected this wacky season: Strasburg felt nerve irritation after waiting for four months and trying to ramp up in three weeks. Then Crowe’s start, against top prospect Sixto Sánchez also making his debut, was another reminder of the circumstances.

Crowe missed two weeks of July workouts after contracting the coronavirus. He and his wife, Hilary, were driving from Charleston, S.C., when she received a positive result. They turned the car around, Crowe was tested again, and that revealed he was positive, too. Crowe was asymptomatic, and Hilary showed mild symptoms.

They quarantined until cleared to travel. Crowe went straight to the Nationals’ alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va. It would become a trampoline to the majors, with injuries triggering a string of call-ups. The Nationals are built around their rotation and made a point of strengthening their bullpen in the offseason. But the first month of their schedule has altered many plans.

“It’s been crazy,” Crowe said. “I showed up a little late, some unfortunate things happened, and then got here and it was go time.”

Crowe worked around two singles to pitch a scoreless first. He walked the leadoff batter of the second on four pitches, teasing at a quick digression, before setting down the next three batters. The third is when trouble brewed, once neither Turner nor catcher Yan Gomes could reach a foul ball along the third-base line.

A catch would have gotten Crowe out of the inning. Instead, he walked Joyce before Corey Dickerson smacked a two-out, two-run homer. Crowe exited in the fourth at 64 pitches and left two on for Romero. And that’s when more oddities struck.

Romero seemed out of the jam when Jonathan Villar hit a grounder back to him. But he fumbled the ball, and Villar beat a hurried throw. Romero then struck out Magneuris Sierra on a low slider, but the ball bounced away from Gomes for a wild pitch and a run scored. Then Lewis Brinson hit a dribbler between the mound and Turner to score another. Brinson couldn’t have wished for better placement.

The gap shrunk when Victor Robles rocked a two-run homer in the fifth. The Marlins added to it against Bacus, who had his worst command in five appearances. Sweat made it hard for him to grip his pitches.

Washington would get the trying run to first base in the sixth and seventh innings. But it made it no farther, stranded when Gomes lined out to the warning track in the sixth before Asdrúbal Cabrera tapped out to first in the seventh. The difference between losing and floating was no more than 270 feet.

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