CINCINNATI - A little perspective makes the Nationals’ 14-4 thumping of the Reds on Sunday afternoon all that much more enjoyable.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman got the day off, just as manager Dusty Baker had promised. Three regulars - left fielder Jayson Werth, center fielder Michael A. Taylor (who replaced the injured Adam Eaton) and shortstop Trea Turner - remain on the disabled list with no timetables established for their returns. Nats starting pitcher Tanner Roark was desperately trying to right a maddeningly frustrating season, banking that a five-inning relief stint before the All-Star break had given him hope that a turnaround was imminent.
All the Nationals did was to bang out 17 hits, five home runs among them. Daniel Murphy homered twice, becoming the third different player with a multiple-home run game in as many days, a franchise first. Murphy (seven games), shortstop Wilmer Difo (eight games), third baseman Anthony Rendon (10 games) and right fielder Bryce Harper (11 games) all extended hitting streaks in the romp.
Roark allowed four hits and three unearned runs over six innings, notching his first victory since June 4 and lowering his ERA to 4.98.
“If you’re on my team, everybody plays,” Baker said. “We expect them to do the job, which they are, and we had a big offensive production today. Hit some home runs in this home run park. Tanner, he threw the ball great. We made a couple errors that turned in runs, and one of them was a walk that turned into a run. But other than that, Tanner threw the ball outstanding.”
Roark was already up 4-0 in the third when a weird play threatened to help get the Reds back in the game. Reds starter Homer Bailey swung and missed at a third strike and home plate umpire Tim Timmons seemed to register the play as an out and a dead ball. As catcher Jose Lobaton wound up and pegged the ball to third, first base umpire James Hoye overruled Timmons, saying the ball hit the dirt and was not caught cleanly, and Bailey trotted to first, to the Nationals’ dismay.
Roark and Baker argued to no avail. Billy Hamilton singled and Jesse Winker walked to load the bases for Joey Votto, who skied to short left-center. Two runs later crossed - on a fielding error by Difo and a grounder to Adam Lind at first - but Roark kept his composure.
“It seemed like that one inning, with a little bit of confusions with Homer getting to first base, could’ve got away from him,” Murphy said. “But for him to keep that to two right there, I mean, it’s bases loaded with, arguably, the most dangerous hitter in baseball up to bat there and nobody out. And so for him to get out of that inning with two and get us back in the dugout, it kept us on schedule, so I thought Tanner was awesome.”
Roark worked his way out of a jam in the fifth, when a throwing error by Rendon aided a Reds scoring rally, and prospered under another offensive outburst. Murphy hit a three-run homer and Adam Lind a two-run shot in a five-run fifth. The fireworks continued even after Roark departed, with Rendon and Lobaton going deep in the seventh. The Nationals seemed to relish pouring it on.
Nothing like some support to make things easy on a pitcher, is there?
“You go out there and you pitch with confidence and you go right at ‘em,” Roark said. “You attack the hitters. Just throw strikes and know you have seven other guys behind me who can make plays. Always got to trust your stuff.”
The Nationals have now scored 10 or more runs in back-to-back games and 17 times this season. It’s getting so that it doesn’t matter which names Baker writes into the lineup or in what order, they seem to produce. The Nats can sweep the four-game series tomorrow by winning an afternoon matinee.
“It’s just a testament to our offense grinding out at-bats,” Murphy said.