Nationals hand out pink slips early, then rally late to beat Mets

Nationals hand out pink slips early, then rally late to beat Mets

Behind the scenes, well beyond Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the New York Mets — a victory capped by a walk-off single from rookie Jacob Young — the Washington Nationals informed at least 10 scouts that they will not have their contracts renewed, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decisions came shortly after Johnny DiPuglia, the team’s longtime head of international scouting, resigned last week. And this all comes while Mike Rizzo, the club’s longtime general manager and president of baseball operations, is still without a contract beyond this season.

Rizzo is still negotiating with ownership, according to three people with knowledge of his situation. Asked Wednesday about his contract status in a radio interview on 106.7 the Fan, Rizzo said: “This has been my home for 17 years. I’ve been here since 2006 and plan on being here for a long time beyond that.” But should he return, as many in the organization expect, his operation will certainly look different.

DiPuglia, hired in the fall of 2009, was one of Rizzo’s closest confidants in the organization. Among the 10 scouts let go, six — John Mirabelli, Mike Pagliuaro, Jon Weil, Willie Fraser, Matt Ruebel and Jeff Harris — were special assistants to Rizzo. Their departures were first reported by the Athletic. The four other scouts were members of the international department: Mike Cadahia (director of international operations), Alex Rodriguez (Latin American crosschecker), Jose Pepe Ortega (scout in the Dominican Republic) and David Leer (scout in Aruba).

More turnover could be on the way, according to multiple people familiar with the club’s plans, potentially affecting the amateur scouting department and player development staff. With DiPuglia and Cadahia gone, two of DiPuglia’s top lieutenants, Fausto Severino and Modesto Ulloa, maintain influence on the international side. This season, the Nationals’ Dominican Summer League team finished with an 11-39 record (worst in the league) and a minus-140 run differential (second worst).

Since Nationals ownership began exploring selling the franchise in April 2022, the most stability would appear to be at the major league level. Last month, Manager Dave Martinez signed a two-year extension with a team option for a third season. That should lend him a good bit of influence moving forward, particularly with regard to his coaching staff. But on the field, the Nationals (63-77) have backslid after a strong six-week stretch following the all-star break.

Wednesday’s victory snapped a six-game losing streak. It also assured the team would not lose 100 games for the second straight year. Young’s first walk-off hit came after four scoreless innings from the bullpen. Still, the Nationals have dropped eight of 10.

“He’s one of many that are going to come up and help us win games,” Martinez said of the 24-year-old Young. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy for our club. What I always say: These guys don’t give up. We’re down, we’re down, we’re down, and they come back. To walk off a team, especially one of our young prospects, is awesome.”

Joan Adon, Washington’s 25-year-old starter, yielded two runs on six hits in five innings. The first of those runs, though, scored just two batters into the game, continuing a troubling trend. In their past six contests, the Nationals have trailed by at least a run before even getting a chance to bat. And once they have stepped into the batter’s box, their offense had failed to close the gaps.

Lane Thomas, the team’s best hitter, sat again against the Mets (64-75) because of back tightness. The hope is that, with four days off in a row, he will return when Washington hosts the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. Without him, the Nationals logged six hits and two runs against José Butto, who entered with only 18⅔ major league innings to his name. Dominic Smith, facing his former team, collected three of those hits. Butto, a 25-year-old righty, worked 6⅓ innings, exiting with runners on the corners and one out in the seventh.

Trevor Gott, facing his former club, entered for the Mets. Ildemaro Vargas, pinch-hitting for Alex Call, greeted him with an RBI single that cut a two-run deficit in half. Two batters later, CJ Abrams knotted the score with an RBI single through the middle. He quickly followed with his 40th steal. In the eighth, Riley Adams pinch-hit for Travis Blankenhorn and exited mid-at-bat with what appeared to be a left hand injury. Adams will undergo an MRI exam Thursday to assess the extent of the injury.

As for the deciding rally, it stirred when Phil Bickford walked Carter Kieboom and plunked Jake Alu with no outs. Vargas, the next batter, dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position. But only one needed to score, which Young handled by chopping a single through a drawn-in infield. And so a grim day for the organization ended with a comeback win.

“Right when I hit, I saw where I hit and it was a good spot,” said Young, who wound up celebrating with a bubble gum bucket on his head. “It felt great to look in the dugout and everyone was already coming out. It’s a great feeling, all your boys running out.”

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