WASHINGTON – Wearing a red muscle shirt with a drawing of a gold trumpet — this year’s answer to the “Baby Shark” phenomenon of 2019 — Washington Nationals center fielder Victor Robles sat down for his postgame video conference and announced, “Hi, guys!”
Filled with energy on and off a baseball field, Robles did his part Saturday night to help fill in for missing teammate and friend Juan Soto, who began the season on the COVID-19 injured list.
Robles jump-started Washington’s dormant offense by delivering three hits and four RBIs, including a homer off the foul pole that he celebrated by pantomiming pandemic-appropriate “air high-fives” with teammates, helping the Nationals beat the New York Yankees 9-2 without scratched starter Stephen Strasburg and despite five errors.
“He uplifted us,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said about Robles.
Robles credited utility player Emilio Bonifácio with coming up with the trumpet theme — players motioned with their fingers as if playing a horn after hits — and making shirts with the instrument. Robles likened it to the whole “Baby Shark” vibe last year along the way to a championship when since-departed outfielder Gerardo Parra's child tune became a walk-up song and then an anthem of sorts for the Nationals.
Asdrúbal Cabrera and Michael A. Taylor also homered for Washington, which lost 2019 World Series MVP Strasburg to a nerve issue in his pitching hand two days after Soto tested positive for the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Filling in for Strasburg, Erick Fedde allowed a pair of runs in four innings, including Giancarlo Stanton’s second homer in two games. Fedde was told two days earlier to be prepared to start in case Strasburg couldn’t.
Stanton's drive was projected at 483 feet with an exit velocity of 121.3 mph, and when Fedde was asked about that 3-0 pitch, he chuckled and replied: "He definitely crushed it."
Stanton knelt alongside fellow Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks during the national anthem; another teammate, DJ LeMahieu, stood nearby and tapped each on the shoulder after the song ended.
Asked why he knelt, Hicks said: “Because I’m a Black man living in America. I feel like for me, I should be judged by my character and not by my skin tone. And growing up, that’s kind of what happened. I felt like it was right to do."
With Max Scherzer and other Nationals starting pitchers — although not Strasburg — sitting somewhat spread out about 10 rows behind home plate, Fedde was followed by four relievers, who gave up three hits across five scoreless innings.
Tanner Rainey (1-0) got three outs for the win.
After losing Soto on opening day, then managing one hit against Gerrit Cole in a rain-shortened 4-1 loss to the Yankees, the Nationals got going in Game 2 with four consecutive hits off James Paxton (0-1) in the second.
The biggest was Robles’ two-run double. One walk later, Paxton was done after 41 pitches — and just three outs. The lefty went 11-0 over his last 14 starts in 2019, including the playoffs, but he had offseason back surgery and would have missed the start of this season if it hadn't been delayed for nearly four months because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The lefty said he didn't feel pain while throwing.
“Just felt a little sluggish tonight,” Paxton said. “The arm just didn't feel really live.”
Robles added a two-run homer in the fourth, clanging the ball off the foul pole in left field, then singled in the sixth.
“He’s definitely missed big-time here,” Robles said through a translator about Soto, a fellow Dominican outfielder. “But individually, we all have a role. We all know what our job is. It’s just a matter of doing your job and helping the team win, any way you can.”
The teams combined for seven errors — two by Nationals shortstop Trea Turner on a single play, one fielding and one throwing.
“The errors that we made, I think, were kind of lackadaisical," Martinez said. "Those things can't happen. We're better than that.”
Yankees: LeMahieu made his season debut after having COVID-19, leading off and playing five innings in the field. ... Manager Aaron Boone said LHP Zack Britton would be his primary closer while Aroldis Chapman is on the COVID-19 injured list.
Nationals: Carter Kieboom has what Martinez described as a “little, slight groin issue” that affects his lateral movement, so Kieboom was in the lineup as the DH instead of at 3B.
After the game, the Yankees optioned OF Clint Frazier and RHP Ben Heller to the team's alternate training site. New York said it anticipates recalling RHP Brooks Kriske and RHP Nick Nelson before Sunday's game.
LHP Patrick Corbin begins his second season of a $140 million, six-year deal with Washington by starting Sunday afternoon against the Yankees, who are expected to go with a mix of relievers.
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