“I think I hit well with two strikes,” said Thomas, fully acknowledging he wanted to excel against his former side. “I don’t know if it’s just how the aspect approaches. I know I’m fast enough to hit a lot of fastballs. So it takes a bit of a relief to know that you can anticipate some of the sliders and curve balls and all, knowing that you can always hit a fastball the other way.
Before Thomas faced Pallante, César Hernández, Josh Palacios and CJ Abrams singled out, with Abrams recording his second hit on a tapper on the third base line. After Thomas walked, Luis García tagged Palacios with a high chopper, Joey Meneses tagged Abrams with a left single, and then Luke Voit, another former Cardinal, tagged Thomas with a sacrifice fly. Earlier in the afternoon, Thomas brought on Abrams when his brace bounced around the right corner of the pitch and onto a flower bed near the foul post at Busch Stadium.
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As has often been the case in recent games, when the Nationals played some of their best baseball of the season, Thomas was in the middle of things. Abrams also had four hits and his first career hat-trick. The same goes for Keibert Ruiz, who walked twice, hit a single and crashed a solo homer against James Naile in the eighth. And so did Meneses, who stayed on fire with three more singles.
The Nationals (48-87) finished with 14 hits against the Cardinals’ three. They have won three in a row and six of their last eight games.
“Listen, I like what I’m seeing right now,” manager Dave Martinez said. “And it’s been a lot of fun working with these guys. They begin to understand. As you can see, they are beginning to understand what we are trying to do.
Battling in the lead against right-hander Jack Flaherty, Thomas hit that double in the third, then again when Flaherty beat him in the fifth, once again on the well-deserved step in the sixth and finally on another step in the seventh. He also used his speed to beat a decent throw from Lars Nootbaar on Voit’s sacrifice fly. Like last September, he should get another extended chance this month and walk away in favor of Victor Robles on Monday.
With Flaherty, who returned from a shoulder problem that put him on the 60-day injured list, the Cardinals (79-56) see if they have another reliable arm for the stretch run and the playoffs. The Nationals, meanwhile, are rating on a much different scale, fixing both eyes on a hazy future.
Thomas, 27 and eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, could help. Since the Nationals acquired him for veteran starter Jon Lester in July 2021, he’s looked like a fourth outfielder on a roster in contention, should Washington ultimately surrender one. Thomas is the fastest player on the team. Over the weekend, when the Nationals won two of the New York Mets’ three games, he hit his 15th homer of the season, edging out only Juan Soto for the club lead for 2022.
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Recent successes aside, Thomas isn’t having a stellar year, nor is he expected to be a game-changer for Washington in the coming seasons. His more slugging on-base percentage, .724 after Monday’s win, hit just par. He still hits too much, maybe because he was too selective in the first counts. But if the Nationals land even an above-average bench player from Lester’s deal — a trade that made general manager Mike Rizzo look like a bandit, it doesn’t matter if the Cardinals were close to releasing Thomas — c is a big little victory.
A rewind for Sánchez? Well, it wasn’t quite the 7⅔ innings without a score – and almost without a hit – Sánchez threw his last outing at Busch Stadium, a gem that pushed Washington to a 1-0 series lead. National League championships in 2019. But after throwing 16 balls on 11 strikes in a turbulent first inning Monday, Sánchez struck out 12 consecutive batters. He even retired the 42-year-old Albert Pujols twice, including with the rush in the first, preventing Pujols from tying Alex Rodriguez at 696 on the all-time homer list.
Starting the second, he recorded 12 strikeouts on 54 shots, ultimately shutting out the Cardinals for five frames. Sánchez has been rock solid in his last four starts, limiting opponents to two runs and eight hits in 21⅓ innings. Behind him in Game 1 of the series, Hunter Harvey threw a clear sixth and Mason Thompson recorded the final nine outs. It represented Thompson’s first career stoppage. After taping it, Sánchez told reporters he intended to pitch next season.
“I know I can play games like today,” said Sánchez, who missed 3½ months with a nerve problem in his neck. “I know I needed time, especially because I was away last year. But I’m here, and I have to work every day and prepare as best I can to show that I can still throw at this level.
Has Meneses calmed down? Not almost. With singles in the first, fifth and sixth, Meneses has 40 hits in his first 29 games, the most for a Nationals rookie in that number of games. He re-wrote that stat for weeks, repeatedly edging out Anthony Rendon. Meneses now has a .339 batting average and .939 OPS.