NEW YORK - Some more news and notes from Sunday night’s 6-3 victory over the Mets, for anyone who couldn’t stay up that late (or perhaps was watching the local hockey team come up big in overtime )...
* There’s a lot to like about what the Nationals are doing right now, and among the things to like the most is the way their lineup has come together. It’s not just the talented hitters they have, though they have plenty of those. It’s the way they’re stacking up and putting each other in positions to have success.
Consider the batting order Dusty Baker filled out yesterday ...
1. Adam Eaton
2. Trea Turner
3. Bryce Harper
4. Ryan Zimmerman
5. Daniel Murphy
6. Anthony Rendon
7. Jayson Werth
8. Matt Wieters
9. Max Scherzer
That’s about perfect balance right there, going lefty-righty-lefty-righty-lefty-righty-righty-switch hitter. And it paid off in the top of the eighth inning, when Mets manager Terry Collins kept lefty Josh Smoker in the game to face Zimmerman, with Murphy looming in the on-deck circle. Presented with a favorable matchup, Zimmerman proceeded to belt a two-run homer.
“That’s what (having) me in between Harp and Murphy does,” Zimmerman said. “It forces them to make a decision. When we can do the right-left thing through the order, it puts them in a tough spot.”
Zimmerman is now batting .387 with six homers and 14 RBIs. Harper is besting him in all three categories, batting .400 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. Murphy, despite a 1-for-20 slump earlier in the week, still boasts a .324 batting average. Eaton has a .395 on-base percentage.
This is an awfully good lineup, top to bottom.
“I think the biggest thing is, all of us have a pretty good sense of the strike zone,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t swing at too many balls. ... We just do a good job of grinding out at-bats and making them throw strikes and try and get their pitch count up and force them to (go to the bullpen) by the sixth inning.”
* Scherzer had avoided the longball in his first three starts, but his old bugaboo returned Sunday night when Michael Conforto and Neil Walker each homered. That may have conjured up memories of the league-high 31 homers Scherzer surrendered in 2016, but he still finished the night on an especially high note.
Scherzer retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced, completing eight innings and giving the majority of the Nats bullpen the night off.
“He’s known to finish like that,” Baker said. “And I can tell you he didn’t like those homers that he gave up. ... But Max finished strong.”
Scherzer always places more emphasis on how he finishes a start vs. how he starts one. He regularly describes his final 15 pitches as those that define his starts.
Sure enough, Scherzer’s final 17 pitches Sunday night were huge. He retired the side in the eighth, striking out both Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto (who had been 3-for-3 against him) and then stalked off the mound.
For those who might have been wondering if there was a chance Baker would have sent his ace back to the mound for the ninth, Scherzer shot down that possibility himself.
“No, I was done,” he said. “I reached my line. You have to know your line, and that was it.”
* Baker confirmed that Jacob Turner will be promoted from Triple-A Syracuse to start Monday night’s series opener against the Rockies. Turner essentially takes Stephen Strasburg’s place while the right-hander heads home to be with his wife, Rachel, as she gives birth to the couple’s second child.
Turner, 25, signed a minor league deal with the organization over the winter, and though his spring was fairly nondescript, he did make an impression on club officials and put himself in the running for a call-up such as this.
The Nationals’ other options to make this spot start weren’t as ideal. A.J. Cole still must serve a three-game suspension (from throwing at the Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang last September) before he can pitch a major league game. And the team didn’t want to summon prospects Erick Fedde or Austin Voth for this particular assignment.
“(Turner) was the best choice that we had,” Baker said. “We thought about other guys, but we didn’t really want their first start in the big leagues to be in Colorado. He has big league experience (79 games), and Stras is having a second child. If not, it would’ve been Stras out there.”
Turner flew to Denver on Sunday, giving himself a chance to get a full night’s rest, while the rest of the Nationals arrive around 4 a.m. EDT (2 a.m. MDT).
* Werth departed Sunday night’s game in the eighth inning, with Eaton shifting to left field and Michael A. Taylor entering to play center. Werth didn’t do anything to aggravate the groin injury that plagued him earlier in the week, but Baker said he planned all along to sit the 37-year-old late as a precaution. The Nats may employ a similar tactic in Colorado, especially if the weather is cool.
* I’m not joining the team in Denver. Gonna spend a couple days getting reacquainted with the family back home in D.C. Byron Kerr will have you covered at Coors Field, so be sure to frequent his blog to stay on top of everything over the next four days.