WASHINGTON — The Nationals need major improvement from their woeful bullpen if they want to contend in the NL East.
Sunday’s performance could be the start of a turnaround.
Five Washington relievers combined for eight scoreless innings, and Matt Adams homered leading off the 11th as the Nationals beat the Padres 7-6 to avoid their first series sweep at home against San Diego since 2008.
“The bullpen today was outstanding,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “They came in and did the job, made their pitches and that was really good to see.”
Carter Kieboom, Victor Robles and Juan Soto all homered for the Nationals. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time three teammates under the age of 22 homered in the same game. Soto is 20, while Kieboom and Robles are 21.
San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. left in the 10th inning with a hamstring injury after he did an awkward-looking split while trying to stretch for a throw at second base. Tatis was unable to keep his foot on the bag on the play. He moved around gingerly while umpires reviewed the play and could not continue.
Manager Andy Green said it was uncertain how much time, if any, the rookie would miss. Tatis entered the year as one of the top prospects in baseball and is hitting .300 with six homers and 13 RBIs.
“I think everyone saw what happened on the field,” Green said. “So we are hoping he is OK. We’ll find out in time here. He seems in pretty good spirits right now. We’ll find out how severe, how mild it is here very shortly.”
Justin Miller (1-0) pitched a scoreless 11th. The Nationals entered with the majors’ worst relief ERA at 7.34 and lowered that figure to 6.57. They got four scoreless innings from Erick Fedde, who was recalled from Double-A Harrisburg earlier Sunday.
“Eight scoreless innings out of the pen, that’s pretty much all you can hope for,” Fedde said.
Adams, who was hitless in his first five at-bats, hit a 1-1 fastball from Matt Wisler (1-1) into the third deck in right field as Washington salvaged the finale of the three-game series. It was Adams’ third career walk-off homer.
“It feels pretty good to hit one up there,” Adams said. “I didn’t know if the wind was going to end up blowing it foul. It started out way fair and got real close at the end. It stayed fair and ended the day pretty good.”
San Diego scored a run in both the first and second innings, then produced a four-run third against Jeremy Hellickson, highlighted by Eric Hosmer’s three-run homer.
The Nationals climbed out of the 6-0 hole largely on the strength of home runs. Soto connected for a three-run shot in the third, and Kurt Suzuki added an RBI single later in the inning. Robles led off the fourth with a homer against starter Joey Lucchesi, and Kieboom looped a solo shot inside the foul pole in left off reliever Adam Warren in the fifth to tie it.
Both bullpens held it from there, with Washington’s enjoying perhaps its best day of the season. The Padres got runners into scoring position in just two innings against Washington relievers. Tatis stole second with two out in the fourth before Fedde retired Greg Garcia, and Joe Ross loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth but got Manny Machado to pop out.
“They get it,” Martinez said of his bullpen. “I understand, they struggled. But we need them.”
Nationals: Placed 1B Ryan Zimmerman on the 10-day injured list with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Zimmerman, who is hitting .213 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 22 games, suffered the injury while trying to make a catch in Tuesday’s game in Colorado. … 3B Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup for the sixth time in seven games since he was hit on the left elbow by a pitch on April 20. Martinez said Rendon will be re-evaluated Monday.
Hellickson batted ninth, the first time this season Martinez has put the pitcher in the No. 9 spot.
Padres: Rookie LHP Nick Margevicius (2-2, 3.60 ERA) starts the opener of a four-game series at Atlanta on Monday.
Nationals: LHP Patrick Corbin (2-0, 2.48) gets the nod with five days of rest Monday as Washington begins a four-game series against St. Louis.