Harper heating up (Nats sweep away Padres)

Apparently, all Davey Johnson needed to do to get Bryce Harper back on track was threaten to take him out of the lineup.

Since Johnson did so, Harper has four RBIs in five at-bats. His last four plate appearances have all resulted in an RBI.

Harper went 1-for-2 with three RBIs yesterday, and he came through again in his first trip to the plate this afternoon, slapping a run-scoring single to left that plated Denard Span.

It was the type of run we haven’t seen the Nationals put up many times this season. Span singled leading off the inning, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a productive groundout by Ian Desmond, who took an outside pitch the other way to move Span up 90 feet.

Harper then took a 1-2 fastball from Robbie Erlin and dropped it into left, giving the Nats an early 1-0 lead.

Stephen Strasburg has gotten the lowest run support in the majors this season at 2.29 runs per game, but he already is nearly halfway to that total.

Strasburg had a dominant first inning, striking out the side. He got Everth Cabrera and Will Venable looking at curveballs and then struck out Chase Headley swinging at a curve.

The fastball sat 94-97 mph in the first, and the curve was tight. Could be a long day for the Padres.

Update: The most runs the Nats had scored in any Strasburg start this season was six. They had that many runners cross the plate in the third inning alone today, matching a single-inning season high.

Ryan Zimmerman crushed a grand slam to right-center and Anthony Rendon followed with a two-run shot two batters later. Just like that, the Nats have a 7-1 lead.

Zimmerman’s grand slam was the fourth of his career. It came on the first pitch he saw from Erlin - a meatball of a fastball that was right down the middle - and left the yard in a hurry. Zimmerman now has 49 RBIs this season, tying Ian Desmond for the team high.

He got a hug from Adam LaRoche in the Nats dugout and then was called out for a curtain call. Zimmerman is the third Nats player to get a curtain call this homestand, joining Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos.

Rendon’s shot, his third of the season, came down in the visitors’ bullpen in left. Another fastball on a tee from Erlin, another homer.

The bats are coming alive.

Update II: Boy, are they ever.

The Nats followed up that six-run third inning with a four-run fourth, making it an 11-3 ballgame. The Nats have nine hits today, but they’ve capitalized on five walks served up by Padres pitchers and two San Diego errors.

Harper has reached in all three plate appearances today (two singles and a walk) and has two stolen bases. I think the knee is fine.

This is the third time in an eight-game span the Nats have scored double-digit runs. They had reached the 10-run mark only once in their first 80 games played this season.

Update III: I’m struggling with the heat up here in the press box, so I can’t imagine what Strasburg and the guys on the field have been dealing with today.

Strasburg found a way to battle through the more than 90-degree temperatures and gave the Nats six solid innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He surrendered a home run, hit three batters and threw 111 pitches, 68 for strikes.

Strasburg took a bunch of lengthy pauses in between pitches. There were a lot of deep breaths on the mound and I would imagine plenty of cups of Gatorade in the dugout. But he got deep enough into the game to save the Nats bullpen a bit and put himself in line for his fifth win of the season.

Update IV: Craig Stammen made things interesting, allowing three runs (two earned) to allow the Padres to creep back into this game a bit. But Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard closed the door, finishing off an 11-7 Nats win and a sweep of San Diego.

This is the Nationals’ first three-game sweep since April 9-11 over the White Sox, and the first time they’ve won four straight games since early May.

With the Braves’ loss to the Phillies today, the Nats’ deficit in the National League East has been cut to four games, the lowest it’s been since May 20.

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