It didn’t take more than 15 minutes into tonight’s ballgame, Bryce Harper’s first in over a month, for the 20-year-old outfielder to make his presence felt.
Up with two outs in the bottom of the first, Harper took the first pitch he saw from Yovani Gallardo, then smoked the second on a line over the left-center field fence for a solo homer that got the Nationals rolling towards a 10-5 win.
“Wouldn’t you know it?” manager Davey Johnson said of Harper’s theatrics. “We kinda expected something. Something he was gonna do special.”
Harper’s 13th homer of the season got things started, but everyone else pulled their weight, as well. Denard Span doubled and reached base three times. Jayson Werth had five RBIs for the first time in nearly four years. Ryan Zimmerman had two hits and two RBIs.
Heck, even Jordan Zimmermann contributed three hits to go along with his six innings pitched. Zimmermann produced offensively, boosting his average 77 points, and while his performance on the mound tonight wasn’t his best this season (he allowed four runs on nine hits over his six frames), Zimmermann did tie Max Scherzer for most wins in the majors with 12.
“Zim pitched a good ball game,” Johnson said. “I think Milwaukee went 14 innings and scored only one run yesterday. I think they were hungry to swing the bats and they swung the bats pretty good off him. Didn’t help he got a couple base hits and had to run the bases hard. A good win. A nice win for him.”
The Nats did some big-time damage with their new-look lineup, which is actually the old lineup that Johnson utilized early in the season before a host of injuries threw things out of whack. Werth returned to the No. 2 spot, Harper hit third, and Anthony Rendon moved down to the No. 7 spot in the order, giving the Nats a dangerous
“I talked with Jayson Werth before and he wasn’t really keen on hitting second,” Johnson said. “(I said), ‘Well, you’re only hitting second the first time up. You’re going to have guys on base.’ He said, ‘Yeah, with Rendon on the other end I’ll probably get more guys on base.’ Sure enough, the first two times he came up, he had a bunch of people on and he delivered.”
Werth might not love hitting up towards the top of the order, but the Nats produced plenty from an offensive standpoint when Werth hit leadoff last season, and it seems like he can provide a bit of a spark up above Harper and Zimmerman.
“I (told) him that if I rested Denard I’d lead him off,” Johnson said. “We scored a lot of runs last year with him leading off. With him hitting second, it just creates more problems for the opposing manager.”
The Nats have now scored 23 runs in their last two games, tied for their most runs scored over a two-game span in team history. They also have 17 extra-base hits in the last two games, and while we’ve been down this road before where we’ve thought the Nats were turning a corner offensively, this is the first time they’ve strung together two games with double-digit runs since June of last season.
“When a lot of guys are struggling, I think it puts pressure on each one of them thinking, ‘I’m the one who’s dragging us down,’ ” Johnson said. “When everybody starts getting over that, well we’ve hit rock bottom let’s start relaxing and doing the things we’re capable of doing. I haven’t really sensed a lot of tension in the clubhouse other than when you have a lot of young guys who aren’t doing the things they’re capable of they’re not real comfortable. But the only way to get around that is to get a bunch of hits.”
“I think the guys know that we’re capable. Even (Chad) Tracy, I think that was the first ball he’s hit hard in a month. It’s kind of contagious. Everybody knows we’ve got some work to do. Let’s get down to business. Let’s get serious. Quality at-bats. We scored a bunch on a big time pitcher who’s got good stuff.”