Rendon and Ramos packing a punch, Gonzalez hitting his stride

PHILADELPHIA - If you haven't heard much about Henry Rodriguez lately, it's because the former Nationals reliever, who was traded to the Cubs a month ago, hasn't seen a whole lot of action with his new team.

Prior to last night, Rodriguez had appeared in just four games since heading to the Cubs on June 11, and just one since June 23. Rodriguez got into a game last night, entering a blowout in the fifth inning. He faced five batters and didn't retire any of them.

The five batters went like this: homer, single, single, walk, walk. Rodriguez now has allowed 20 hits and 20 walks in his 22 innings this season. So much ability, such inflated numbers.

During the first couple months of the season, when Rodriguez was still a member of the Nationals bullpen, we often heard manager Davey Johnson talk about how he needed more production out of the bottom part of his lineup.

Sure, he needed more production out of the top half of the lineup, as well. But with the struggling Tyler Moore, Danny Espinosa, Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy often rotating into spots the bottom of the order, as well as Kurt Suzuki, the Nats had issues turning the lineup over and generating offense out of the No. 7 and No. 8 spots.

Opposing pitchers were able to work through that part of the order with relative ease, putting more pressure on the guys hitting in the No. 1-6 holes to set the table and drive in the runs, as well.

The way the Nats lineup is constructed on the majority of days now, with Anthony Rendon hitting seventh and Wilson Ramos hitting eighth, the Nats finally are getting the type of production they need out of the bottom third in their order. The lineup has depth now, and those two have proved that they can pack a punch and deliver a big hit in a bit spot.

"There's no question about it," Johnson said. "And that creates a lot of opportunities for the guys in the front of the lineup. They've been swinging the heck out of it and (if) we keep them healthy, we'll be fine."

Rendon and Ramos combined to go 4-for-8 with two homers and a double last night in the Nats' 5-1 win over the Phillies. Hitting out of the No. 7 spot, Rendon has an impressive .317/.460/.871 slash line, and since returning from his latest DL stint, Ramos is a ridiculous 9-for-20 with two homers, two doubles and 10 RBIs.

No longer can pitchers waltz through the bottom third of the Nats' order. Bryce Harper's return and his presence in the middle of the lineup has been huge, but Rendon and Ramos have changed the dynamic of the Nats' order, as well.

"There's really no break one through eight," Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's hard for the opposing pitcher to get through that lineup, and just when you think you have a break, you have guys in the seven, eight spot who can hurt you, too."

Switching gears a bit, after a shaky first month of the season, in which he allowed five earned runs or more in three of his six starts, Gio Gonzalez has been tremendous.

Over his last 13 starts, beginning May 5, Gonzalez has a 2.18 ERA, .203 batting average against and has surrendered more than two earned runs in an outing just twice.

This is the type of stuff we saw from Gonzalez last season, when he won 21 games, posted a 2.89 ERA and finished third in the National League Cy Young voting. Gonzalez is hitting a groove now, and the results have been tremendous.

"I think the main three (starters) who everyone talks about have been really good all year," Zimmerman said. "Gio a little bit at the beginning, but the numbers at the beginning of the season are always inflated, both good and bad. I think what you've seen from Gio over the last two months is more what we expect from him and I'm sure what he expects from himself."

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