NEW YORK - If the Nationals’ win Friday was their “biggest win of the year,” was today’s victory the most enjoyable one this season?
The Nationals pounded out 13 runs on 13 hits this afternoon. They connected on four home runs (one each by Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, Kurt Suzuki and Ian Desmond) and six doubles, and had every position player in the starting lineup produce at least one run and one RBI.
This was the first time in team history that all eight starting position players had an RBI in the same game.
On the pitching side, Gio Gonzalez lowered his ERA to 3.09 with seven shutout innings. He allowed just three hits, struck out seven, and threw 84 strikes, by far a career-high. Defensively, not an error was made.
Not a bad way to end a three-game road trip, getting the Nats back above .500 at the season’s halfway point.
“That was exciting,” manager Davey Johnson said. “That was a lot of good hitting. I know Gio wishes he could’ve used those runs in some other games. But he pitched a heck of a ballgame. He thanked me for leaving him in there in the end. That was the last batter he was going to face. But he was outstanding. And it was nice to see the bats come alive and make that trip home a lot shorter. It was a good one.”
The Nats teed off on Mets starter Zack Wheeler, who was making just his third career big league start. Wheeler has loads of raw ability, but the Nats attacked him early in at-bats and did damage off the right-hander’s fastball, which topped out at 98 mph today.
“I like that (Ryan Zimmerman) and (Werth) are looking early in the count and getting something and taking a good swing at it,” Johnson said. “I like that. That prevents them from throwing that many pitches over and getting ahead. It’s awful tough hitting with two strikes all the time, and we didn’t do that today. I got on Desi. ‘After (Wheeler) walked a guy, what in the world are you faking a bunt for? He’s got to throw you one right down the middle.’
“He got a double on a fastball, but look first pitch and hit a double. Don’t fake bunt. You’re leading this club in doubles. Swing the bat! But that’s the kind of attitude we’ve been developing. We’ve got to get off of that.”
Gonzalez put two of the first three hitters he faced on base, but turned things around quickly after Suzuki came out and gave Gonzalez a stern talking to. From there on out, Gonzalez retired 17 of the next 18 Mets hitters he faced and didn’t allow another runner in scoring position until the seventh, when he was able to work out of a two-on, nobody-out jam.
“They know each other so well,” Johnson said of Suzuki and Gonzalez. “And Gio has had a lot of high-pitch first innings, and then he comes back and pitches a heck of a ballgame. That was no exception today.”
The Nats came into this season feeling they had one of the top pitching staffs in the majors and one of the deepest lineups, as well. They obviously won’t push across 13 runs every night, but this is the kind of performance they feel they’re capable of. And now with Bryce Harper returning, their lineup becomes even more potent.
“We certainly have the talent,” Johnson said. “We’ve been kind of in a rut. But it’ll be good to get Harp back. He’s been very aggressive. We just need to keep that momentum going.”