The four players most responsible for the Nationals’ 7-1 win over the Reds on Thursday afternoon are making a shade over $4 million combined this season.
Two of them weren’t on the roster at the first of the year; three of them weren’t on the roster at the start of last year; and all of them could be gone after this year - some possibly as soon as the end of the month.
But on Thursday afternoon, Nyjer Morgan, Adam Kennedy, Willie Harris and Livan Hernandez - four players with uncertain futures in Washington - grabbed the spotlight for a day.
The Nationals’ victory, which salvaged a split in a four-game series with the Reds after they dropped the first two games, was almost all because of those four. Hernandez needed just 102 pitches for his second complete-game victory of the year, holding the Reds to seven hits with his off-putting array of pitches.
Morgan got on base three times, stole three bases, scored a run and continued a nine-game stretch where he’s looked like the player that ignited the Nationals’ offense last season. Harris and Kennedy each went 2-for-3 with a walk, scoring three runs between them, and the Nationals scored at least seven runs for the third straight game, after going 23 innings without a run during a stretch in their previous three.
It was another glimpse of how the Nationals can have, at the very least, a competent major league offense when they’re able to stretch the lineup longer than the three players in the middle of it. That hasn’t happened much this season; Morgan has struggled at the plate and on the bases, Kennedy has lost chunks of playing time to Cristian Guzman and Harris is still under the Mendoza line, having lost most of his at-bats as the Nationals committed to players at the infield and outfield spots where uncertainty afforded him everyday action the last two years.
The Nationals have control of Morgan and an option on Kennedy after the year, but none of them are locks to be back, and all four players’ names have come up in trade talks this month.
But in the meantime, there’s still plenty riding on all four being successful; aside from Stephen Strasburg, Hernandez is unquestionably the best starter the Nationals have. And without some help from Morgan, Kennedy or Harris, the Nationals simply don’t have a deep enough offense to win consistently. On most days, at least one of them will be in the lineup, hitting near the top of it more often than not.
They showed their value on Thursday afternoon, though, in the stark contrast that exists in the Nationals’ productivity when each one is playing well and what happens when they’re not.