Murphy homers to produce early lead at Wrigley (Nats win 4-2)

CHICAGO - With a rare opportunity to bat behind Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy delivered the big blow that gave the Nationals a quick lead this afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Murphy, batting cleanup with Ryan Zimmerman getting a day off, launched a two-run homer in the top of the first, putting the Nationals up 2-0 on the Cubs in the opener of a big weekend series.

Murphy’s blast came on a 2-1 pitch from Kyle Hendricks, landing in the right field bleachers. Howie Kendrick, who singled to center two batters earlier, scored in front of him.

murphy-harper-gray-high-five-sidebar.jpgManager Dusty Baker decided to give Zimmerman a day off, noticing the first baseman’s bat had “slowed down” in recent days. With the team off Thursday, Baker figured he could give Zimmerman 48 hours of rest, just as he did with Murphy (who didn’t play Wednesday night in Miami).

The Nationals put six men on base in the first three innings but couldn’t convert beyond Murphy’s homer, with Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo making a diving stop on Adam Lind’s scorcher with the bases loaded and two out in the third.

Tanner Roark, meanwhile, has tossed four scoreless innings to get his afternoon started on a positive note. Roark put the leadoff man on base in both the first and second, and then put two more men on in the third, but he has pitched his way out of trouble so far, inducing a big double play out of Rizzo to end the third.

Roark also made an astute play in the bottom of the second, when with a man on first and one out, Jason Heyward lofted a fly ball to shallow right-center. Brian Goodwin appeared to get fooled by the wind and wound up missing the routine play, but Harper quickly picked up the ball and threw to Roark, who was covering second base to get a highly unusual 9-1 force out.

Roark has thrown 70 pitches through four innings.

Update: He’s done it again. Murphy led off the top of the sixth with an opposite-field homer, cutting it through the left-to-right wind and just into the basket hanging from the bleachers. That’s his second homer of the day, his 19th of the season, and check out his updated career numbers at Wrigley Field: .404 batting average (38-for-94), eight homers, 15 RBIs, 1.174 OPS. It’s 3-0 Nats in the sixth.

Update II: Roark was at 97 pitches after six scoreless innings, leaving Dusty Baker with a decision: Keep his starter in, or turn things over to his new-look bullpen? He decided to keep him in. And Roark promptly gave up a double to Kyle Schwarber and a two-run homer to Javier Báez. Baker emerged then and signaled for Brandon Kintzler from the bullpen, but the damage was done. The Nats now lead by only one run, 3-2, and have given the rest of the bullpen no margin for error.

Update III: The Nationals got a big insurance run in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with nobody out and then getting a sacrifice fly from Anthony Rendon. That made it 4-2, and it remains 4-2 after Ryan Madson delivered his sixth scoreless inning of relief since joining the Nats. It’ll be Sean Doolittle for the ninth, trying to preserve this victory.

Update IV: That’s your ballgame. Nats win 4-2 after Doolittle records his fifth save in as many opportunities since joining the club. That’s a nice way for this weekend to get underway.

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