Soto’s solo shot off reliever Steve Cishek (1-4) to center field in the seventh inning proved to be the winner. Bell ended a 1-for-33 slump over eight-plus games with his first home run as a member of the Padres, a 415-foot blast to right-center to tie the game at 1 in the fifth.
“It felt really good. I put in a lot of work … hopefully the next 50 at-bats are better than the first 50,” Bell said of breaking his slump to start his tenure with the Padres. “It is fun playing against those guys (Nationals) over there. It’s a lot more fun now that I have gotten a hit against them. It got to the point where I felt myself pressing.”
The Padres had lost four of five, including the first two in the series, mostly because of their struggling offense.
“We really needed this win really bad to get back on track and get the team going,” Soto said. “Just the way we won today, we had a lot of traffic the whole game. It is a good way to start going.”
Even though San Diego scored just two runs, it was enough to back the strong pitching by starter Joe Musgrove, who allowed one run and four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts.
“One swing of the bat changes the game,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said. “Now we have guys throughout the lineup that can do that. When you have good pitching and you are getting shut down a little bit, one mistake can be a game changer.”
San Diego’s bullpen also stepped up, keeping the Nationals scoreless over three innings. Adrian Morejon (3-0) earned the win by pitching scoreless seventh and eighth. Luis Garcia earned his third save of the season, pitching a scoreless ninth despite giving up a hit and hitting a batter. Earlier Saturday, San Diego gave Josh Hader a break from closing duties due to his recent struggles.
“We were trying to get two (innings) out of Morejon and close with Garcia today,” Melvin said. “It may look different tomorrow, but it worked today.”
The Nationals jumped out to a 1-0 lead after a solo homer by Lane Thomas (2 for 4) off Musgrove, who didn’t figure in the decision.
Musgrove started the season 8-0 and has gone 0-6 in his last 10 starts beginning on June 23rd.
“This time of the year it is starting to feel like every game is a must-win game,” Musgrove said. “We haven’t been playing our best baseball, really all year. We haven’t put it all together for a consistent stretch in time. It’s definitely not for a lack of effort.”
San Diego wasted a prime scoring chance in the bottom of the first with bases loaded on three walks against Washington starter Josiah Gray. However, Bell struck out swinging to end the inning and extinguished the Padres’ threat.
Gray worked five innings, allowing one run and four hits.
The Padres loaded the bases again in third inning with two outs, but Gray got out of it by getting Ha-Seong Kim to hit a hard line drive to left for the third out.
HADER DEMOTED AS PADRES CLOSER
Hader will not be the closer for the Padres after ninth-inning meltdowns on Thursday and Friday night led to losses.
“We will probably give him a break from that (closer) in the interim here, let him work on some things,” Melvin said before the game. “But, our best team, obviously, is with Josh Hader in the closer’s role and that’s why we got him. So, we will give him a little break for now.”
Melvin said the Padres closer role would be based on matchups game-by-game, basically closer by committee. The closer role in the short-term will likely be shared by Padres’ righties Luis Garcia and Robert Suarez and lefties Adrian Morejon and Nick Martinez.
PADRES CALL UP AZOCAR AND DESIGNATE MAZARA
On Saturday, the Padres recalled OF Jose Azocar from Triple-A El Paso and designated OF Nomar Mazara for assignment. Mazara filled in adequately as the team’s everyday right fielder during parts of the first half, but with the return of OF Wil Myers from injury, followed by the acquisition of OF Juan Soto, Mazara no longer had a path to starting games. Azocar was deemed more versatile off the bench than Mazara.
Padres: LHP Drew Pomeranz (flexor tendon surgery) is expected to return from the 60-day IL in early September. Pomeranz made his fifth rehab appearance on Aug. 19, pitching a scoreless inning for Triple-A El Paso.