James Paxton struggles as Yankees get ripped by Nationals

WASHINGTON — There is no such thing as early in this condensed baseball season. No time to ease into things. In a normal schedule the page turned feels like a feather. Now it weighs in like a bank safe.

James Paxton, who had lower back surgery in early February and wouldn’t have been ready by the original Opening Day in late March, got his walk year underway Saturday night with a stinker that placed the Yankees in a ditch they weren’t able to climb out of on the way to a 9-2 beating by the defensively challenged Nationals in an empty Nationals Park.

Since Chad Green wasn’t needed Saturday night he will likely open Sunday’s game and be opposed by lefty Patrick Corbin with each team 1-1 and 58 games left.

A year ago Paxton’s fastball was clocked between 93 and 97 mph. Saturday it was in the 91-93 neighborhood and led to him not getting out of the second inning. In one-plus frames the Yankees’ No. 2 starter gave up three runs, five hits, walked one and whiffed one.

One day after stud outfielder Juan Soto was sidelined by COVID-19 the Nationals scratched right-hander Stephen Strasburg, last year’s World Series MVP, with a nerve issue in his right hand.

Erick Fedde replaced Strasburg and watched the Nationals make four errors in the first three innings. Two of them came in the fourth when Fedde fed Giancarlo Stanton an inning-ending double-play ball.

For the second straight game Stanton flexed his considerable muscles by sending a home run 483 feet to left that nearly left the building in the fourth.

Mike King replaced Paxton and retired the first five batters but gave up a two-run homer to Victor Robles in the fourth and Jonathan Holder surrendered a RBI double to Howie Kendrick in the fifth. Former Met Asdrubal Cabrera homered off Ben Heller in the seventh for an 8-2 advantage. Michael Taylor’s homer off Luis Avilan in the eighth made it 9-2.

Stanton’s homer in the third inning was clocked at 121 mph and shaved the Nationals lead to 3-2. According to Statcast, Stanton started the game first for the most homers (82) hit at 110 mph or above since 2015 and first in most homers (26) hit more than 450 feet.

After making two errors in the top of the first, the Nationals had four more boots before Fedde got an out in the third inning. Inexplicably, shortstop Trea Turner not only misplayed Gio Urshela’s routine grounder leading off the inning, but his lazy throw to the Fedde got by the pitcher and allowed Urshela to take second.

Brett Gardner’s fly ball to the right-field warning track moved Urshela to third and he scored on DJ LeMahieu’s single to left-center that cut the Nationals’ lead to 3-1.

Paxton worked around a two-out triple by Starlin Castro in the first inning by retiring Kendrick on a line drive to center. He wasn’t as fortunate in second frame.

Victor Robles delivered a two-run double with the bases loaded and no outs. When Paxton walked Michael Taylor, the No. 9 hitter, Aaron Boone called for right-hander Mike King who entered with the bases jammed and no outs in his second big league game.

King induced Turner to hit into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Carter Kiebom and ended the rally by getting Adam Eaton on a routine fly to center.

After hitting a two-run homer in the first inning of Thursday night’s game that was measured at 459 feet, Stanton had a chance to hurt the Nationals in the opening inning Saturday evening.

Thanks to errors by first baseman Howie Kendrick and second baseman Miguel Castro, LeMahieu was on second and Gleyber Torres on first with one out when Stanton came to the plate.

Fedde should have been in the dugout and not facing Stanton but got him to bang into a 5-4-3 double play that killed the scoring threat.

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