Starter Doug Fister did his part, too. He went 7 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run to post his 11th win of the season.
LaRoche hadn’t hit a home run since July 22. The two homers were his first at home since June 30. Did he feel any different at the plate Wednesday night?
“Not really. Other than it’s nice to see them go in the seats and not to the warning track or just foul,” LaRoche said. “I feel like I was kind of snakebit last month. Again, I never really felt lost at the plate, which I have plenty of times in the past. I felt like I was right there. It felt like any night, it was going to click and start squaring up balls. I figured it was a matter of time. Hopefully this is the start of something. It felt a lot better the last few days.”
Espinosa said he realized early that Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese had a speedy delivery, so he made an adjustment for his third at-bat.
“He’s pretty quick to home plate and sometimes with my leg kick I don’t get ready as soon as I’d like to,” Espinosa said. “My approach right there, I just try to spread out a little bit more just so I can be ready earlier just so to see the ball a little earlier.”
Espinosa continues to hit well from the right side. Prior to Wednesday, he was hitting .309 this season against left-handers, and only .185 as a left-handed hitter against righties.
What has been the difference from the right side?
“Consistency. I go up there and I do the same thing,” Espinosa said. “I go up there with the same stance. I know what I want to do. I know what I can do. Left-handed, I’ve been searching as far as comfort in my stance. Right-handed, I’ve done the same swing, been the same guy, since I’ve been in pro ball as far as how my setup (looks). I feel comfortable right-handed.”
So would he ever just abandon switch hitting?
“If it was that easy, I think I would try it,” Espinosa said. “But I’ve never done it. I know Shane Victorino did it, I think, last year. I don’t know if he had previous at-bats in a rehab stint or anything like that. But I don’t know how easy that would be. It’d be nice to be able to say, ‘Yeah, let’s just take it to the other side.’ But I’ve never done it.”
With the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera, Espinosa has seen his starts dwindle. But he said that doesn’t change his mental approach each drive to the ballpark.
“I just come in here daily just as if I were going to start,” Espinosa said. “I come in and get my weights done, my running. I get my work in the cages in. I prepare as if I’m going to play. I know my role. When I’m on the bench, I know what my role is going to be so I’m ready for those opportunities. I’m mentally prepared to face who I face. But I just come in and get ready as a normal day and go about my routine.”
Coming to the ballpark when the Nationals are playing is fun with the team now 10 games above .500. A lot of that success is courtesy of an outstanding rotation. LaRoche said Fister is a big part of why they are in first place.
“It’s great. It’s really good to know the four guys behind him are really, really good, too,” LaRoche said. “When you look at the whole rotation, it’s no coincidence that I feel a lot of runs get scored when Doug pitches. I think it’s a matter of really quick innings. He’s pitching to contact. Guys are on their toes. There’s a lot of action. You’re back in the dugout quick. I’ve got to think that has something to do with it.
“That’s a big part of it because there’s been plenty of nights where the offense hasn’t done anything and we’ve snuck a win out. And that’s all on the pitching. It’s kind of been slow and steady this whole year.”
LaRoche said with Fister dealing so quickly and forcing the issue on the opponent, it gets the players charged up because they don’t stand around on defense.
“Seems like when he’s pitching, we’re out there for 30 minutes on defense and spend two hours in the dugout. That’s a good feeling,” LaRoche said.
Fister said it was because of guys like LaRoche, Espinosa and others on defense that helped make his job easier.
“I think we play great defense. There’s a lot of pitches that I didn’t quite get what I wanted,” Fister said. “Our guys played great defense. (Anthony) Rendon over their taking line drives. (Jayson Werth) coming in sliding, catching. It’s stuff like that. Those are the unmentionables that make up a team.”
The Nationals squelched out Mets rally attempts with a pair of double plays behind Fister.
“I’m trying to get a weak ground ball on anything, especially when I got a runner on first base or first and second,” Fister said. “That’s exactly what I want to get. Fortunately, we were able to do that a couple of times tonight. It doesn’t change my focus, I’m still going out there trying to get a ground ball, trying to get our guys to play the defense that they do.”
LaRoche also helped Fister to a 3-0 lead with the first of his two homers in the first, a two-run shot off of Niese.
“It’s certainly nice to get that,” Fister said. “I don’t take that for granted at all. But it’s still a 0-0 ballgame in my head. I’ve still got to go out there. I still have to put up a zero and get our guys back in and hit. That’s not something that allows me to relax or allows me to do anything extra. It’s still the same game.”
With the win and a Braves loss, the Nationals now lead the National League East by four games. Do the guys realize that?
“The way I approach the game, we need to take care of ourselves,” Fister said. “We’ve got two months left or whatever will be of the regular season. If we take care of ourselves and what we do, things will play out the right way.”
LaRoche’s take was a similar refrain on Atlanta and the chase. The NL East rivals begin a weekend series Friday night in Georgia.
“I’ve always said we need to take care of ourselves, whatever happens with other teams, happens,” LaRoche said. “Regardless, they’re still a very dangerous team and we need to go in Atlanta knowing that. Especially against us this year they’ve been really, really good. They bring their ‘A’ game.”