For much of the first two months of this season, the Nationals have been working without two of their key power hitters.
Now, even though Jayson Werth is still sidelined, they've finally got Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse all healthy at the same time. And they know what that can mean for their outlook the rest of this season.
"Oh, it's a whole new ballgame," manager Davey Johnson said.
Tonight, we got a sample of what Nats fans have been waiting to see out of the middle of the this order.
Zimmerman, LaRoche and Morse combined to go 5-for-9 with a home run, two walks and all five Nationals RBIs in Washington's 5-3 win over the Mets. It was an impressive effort from a power-packed group of players, two of which have scuffled the last couple weeks.
"There's not going to be much let-up in that middle of the lineup," Johnson said. "The first two guys are going to get on, and then the thunder's coming. I've been waiting on it."
Morse has now collected four hits in his last two games, but the veteran outfielder provides more than just numbers. His mere presence in the middle of the Nats order adjusts how pitchers must attack this lineup as a whole.
"With him being back, it totally changes (the opposing team's) pitcher's meeting to start a series," LaRoche said. "Now you've got one more big bat they've got to spend some time talking about, and figure out a way to get him out. And it helps other guys around him. The fact that I'm hitting in front of him now, I'm probably going to see some better pitches, because they know what's coming up. And we've got Desi (Ian Desmond) right behind him."
Getting Morse back has been huge, and Zimmerman is starting to show signs of life, as well, after a very slow start to the season.
But seeing LaRoche put up the type of effort like he did tonight (he delivered a first-inning, three-run homer and a big sac fly in the seventh to plate an insurance run) could be key for this team. The Nats have sorely lacked the clutch hitting and power that he provided the first six weeks of the season during LeRoche's recent slump, one which saw his average drop to a season-low .267 entering today.
The pop returned with his three-run blast to right in the first inning, a shot which Johnson felt was coming.
"We got a couple guys on," Johnson said, 'and I said to Randy (Knorr, bench coach), I said, 'He's been quiet for a long time. He's going to start getting hot.' And boom."
"I've been through these (stretches) before, and the most frustrating part is that you're not helping the team win games, whether it's leaving runners on base or not scoring runs," LaRoche said. "As far as long-term, at the end of the year, I know the numbers will be there, but you never want to go through a funk. Obviously, hits have been hard to come by the last few weeks, so hopefully this will start another hot streak."
LaRoche felt he was starting to guess too much at the plate the last couple weeks, so he took some extra batting practice lately and tried to get back into a comfort zone, a zone he says he can't put into words. Regardless of whether he can describe it or not, he might have found it again, and if Morse and Zimmerman can keep clicking, this 3-4-5 could get fun to watch.
"This is kind of what we were talking about in spring training that we're capable of doing," LaRoche said, "and it's just getting everybody going at once."