The first two games of this Nationals-Reds series sure have been plenty interesting.
First, the Reds put up two touchdowns and a two-point conversion on the Nats on Friday night in a 15-0 drubbing.
Sorry, I feel bad even bringing that one up again.
Yesterday’s game was far more competitive and far more dramatic.
The Nationals jumped out to a 5-1 lead, only to see Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano each allow two runs to leave the game tied after nine. In the top of the 11th, two home runs in a three-batter span gave the Nats another lead, but the Reds got back within one and had a shot to tie the game again before Cincinnati-area native Craig Stammen struck out Jay Bruce with a runner in scoring position to end the game.
As if that wasn’t enough action for one series, we’ll see Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto take the mound this afternoon in the rubber game. That’s must-watch TV right there.
Here are a few important takeaways I got from yesterday’s thriller in Cincinnati:
* Wilson Ramos clubbed two home runs in his return to the stadium where he blew out his right knee last summer. Both homers were crushed, showing off the power the Nationals have long known Ramos possesses. Ramos has reached base in seven of his 12 plate appearances this season and has looked completely comfortable at the plate despite missing the final five months of last season. His pop in the eight-hole in the lineup gives the Nats some serious depth offensively.
* Ian Desmond committed two errors yesterday, giving him four on the young season. Given Desmond’s defensive history, that’s certainly an area of concern going forward, but there’s plenty of time for him to turn things around in the field. The Nats’ All-Star shortstop had also gotten off to a slow start offensively, batting 2-for-18 going into his at-bat in the 11th inning yesterday, but instead of letting his struggles - both offensively and defensively - get to him (which he might have in past seasons), he crushed a solo homer into the second deck in left, leading the Nats to a dramatic win.
* Soriano looked sharp as can be in his first save attempt of the season, retiring the Marlins in order on opening day. In his second save chance, Soriano allowed a walk and a hit, putting the tying run at the plate before shutting Miami down. Then yesterday, Soriano blew his first save as a National. He surrendered a leadoff homer in the ninth to Shin-Soo Choo and a triple high off the left field wall to Joey Votto, and then threw a slider about 56 feet, pulling it into the left-handed hitter’s batter’s box. The wild pitch allowed Votto to score to tie the game. Soriano didn’t look especially sharp in spring, and his last two outings haven’t been too smooth, either.
* After returning from his broken wrist last season, Jayson Werth hit just two home runs in 54 regular season games played. Already this season, Werth has two home runs - both of which were crushed - in only five games played. Werth’s wrist appears to be plenty strong enough for him to drive the ball, and he showed off a bit off opposite-field power yesterday, keeping his hands inside the ball and smoking it over the right-center field fence. Given the power behind Werth in the order, the Nats don’t need him to hit 25-30 home runs this season. But if he can prove to be a force in the No. 2 spot in the order, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and others could get plenty of RBI opportunities.
* Craig Stammen can pitch the seventh or eighth inning in a tight ballgame, if you need him to. He can make a spot start. He can work three or four innings of long relief if a starter has a rough day or is injured. He can be counted on to get a save, as he did late last season in St. Louis. And if a game goes to extra innings, Stammen can give you multiple clutch frames, saving the rest of the bullpen and keeping his team in it. Stammen’s a heck of a pitcher, and his versatility gives him incredible value to this ballclub.
* Denard Span might not have been able to make a tough running catch in right-center on Brandon Phillips’ eighth-inning fly ball, but he saved the day in the bottom of the 10th, covering lots of ground and snagging Devin Mesoraco’s long fly ball just short of the wall, preventing the winning run from scoring from second base. Span has already shown this season how his speed allows him to get to well-hit balls with relative ease, and that was a crucial play that allowed the Nats to stay in the game and pick up the win the very next inning.
* Ross Detwiler didn’t factor into the decision yesterday, but in his first start of 2013, the Nationals’ fifth starter showed yet again that he’s a much better pitcher than his position in the Nats’ rotation might indicate. The left-hander went six innings, allowing six hits and just a single unearned run. He only threw 82 pitches in his six frames, and again, if it wasn’t his first start of the season, manager Davey Johnson would’ve stuck with him a bit longer. I think Detwiler is poised to have a big 2013, and he’s certainly off to a great start.