In win over Pirates, Morse and LaRoche show what they can do for Nationals’ lineup

PITTSBURGH - The Nationals scored six runs, and got 15 hits, against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon with Ryan Zimmerman still nowhere close to returning to their lineup. Jayson Werth went 0-for-5, and despite getting three hits in his five at-bats, Danny Espinosa scored just one run, as the Nationals went 1-for-8 with men in scoring position.

That combination of events, on most days, would rob the Nationals of most of their obvious ways to win a game. They had one of those still in play, though - getting Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse to do damage from the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup. And for the first time this year, that scenario worked out.

Morse went 3-for-4 in the Nationals’ 6-3 win, hitting his first homer of the year when he tore into a Kevin Correia fastball in the third inning. LaRoche came back two innings later with his third homer of the year. His first RBI of the day came in the third inning on a groundout, right before Morse’s three-run blast.

Jim Riggleman talks about the Nats’ 6-3 win over the Pirates

Not only was it the first time Morse has driven in more than one run in a game this year, it was the first time both players have collected RBIs in the same game. And it shouldn’t be understated how much it could help the Nationals’ lineup if one or both of them got hot.

“It’d be huge,” LaRoche said. “You look at the (batting) averages right now, and it’s not real good, and not a ton of guys on base. I don’t think you’re ever going to have everybody clicking at once, but if we can get the majority of the guys going and get a lot of guys on base - we got one through nine today - we can drive in runs.”

The way the Nationals lineup is set up when everyone’s healthy, Werth would be hitting second and Zimmerman third, meaning the team’s best two on-base percentage threats would be on with LaRoche and Morse at the plate. So far, the Nationals haven’t been able to make that plan work; LaRoche entered the day with a .621 OPS, which was 140 points better than Morse’s.

But Morse has started to lock in at the plate recently; he’s 10-for-24 in his last seven games, he’s taking balls to right field and the timing in his swing has felt better, he said. If he starts hitting for some power, and LaRoche - a notorious slow starter - joins him, the Nationals might have enough length in their lineup to score on a consistent basis.

“We need to do what we did today, scratch out some wins when we’re not at the top of our game,” Riggleman said. “When we get at the top of our game, the way we’ve pitched, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”

And with Zimmerman out, the Nationals continue to find ways to survive. They’re now 7-5 with him out of the lineup, winning mostly on the strength of a pitching staff that’s compiled a 3.64 ERA this year. On Sunday, though, they were finally able to rely on two hitters they absolutely need to get going.

“Everybody wants (Zimmerman) back,” LaRoche said. “But it’s one of those things where we’re not going to step in and try to do more. ... We just try to hang on and win as many ballgames as we can before he gets back.”