Nationals still aren’t hitting, but hustle their way into a win over Brewers

As soon as Jayson Werth saw Brewers shortstop Yunesky Betancourt’s throw get away from first baseman Prince Fielder, his mind was made up. Werth took a wide turn around first base, hustled toward second and slid in safely. He hadn’t reached base with a hit, but then, what little damage the Nationals had done came without the benefit of hits.

They’d scored two of their three runs on walks by Brewers pitcher Chris Narveson, taking advantage of some wildness from the left-hander before he settled in, and went silent after that. They’d been beaten in twin complete games by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee the last two days, shut out by Lee in the second one, and had a .209 average for the season, making a too-regular habit of wasting good pitching performances.

So Werth wasn’t waiting around for a hit - especially when an error gave him a reprieve on a routine grounder. He slid into second, and within three pitches, he was gone. Brewers pitcher Zach Braddock gave him one look before throwing a 1-1 curveball to Adam LaRoche, and by the time Braddock stepped toward home, Werth was gone, stealing third base without a throw. And when the Brewers brought left fielder Ryan Braun in as an extra infielder, trying to throw him out at home on a grounder, Werth didn’t flinch. He and third-base coach Bo Porter had talked about going on contact, even with one out and a drawn-in infield. But the Brewers weren’t going to stop him, not in a lefty shift that had no one within four steps of third base.

LaRoche bounced a grounder toward Fielder, Werth slid into home as the throw came high, and took off prancing down the first-base line, celebrating a 4-3, 10-inning win with anyone who had a free hand.

Jim Riggleman meets with the media following the Nats’ 4-3 walk-off victory over the Brewers

“He went out there and busted his butt on three separate plays,” LaRoche said, “and got us that win.”

Was it an ugly way to end a two-game losing streak? Absolutely. But the Nationals are in no shape to be going after style points at the moment.

They’re missing Ryan Zimmerman. They switched leadoff hitters in an effort to jump-start their offense, and aside from a sacrifice fly, Danny Espinosa did the same thing Ian Desmond had been doing: he went 0-for-4. Even Werth is in a prolonged slump; he went 0-for-5, dropping his early-season average to .196.

But what they can do is make hard turns around bases, time pitchers’ jumps for steals and take anything they can from an opponent who might be vulnerable in a lazy moment. Players who do those things are the ones general manager Mike Rizzo stockpiles. They’re the ones Jim Riggleman, with all of his talk about “mistakes of aggression,” loves to manage. And Werth, in effectively winning the game after a break, modeled the ethic that might help the Nationals win a few games they don’t deserve until their offense gets going.

“I think we’ve given away a lot of games this year already - games we had a chance to win, and didn’t,” Werth said. “Who knows what can happen? We’ve got a good club, and we’ve got a lot of talent.”

They had a 3-0 lead early, and still were up a run in the ninth inning until Sean Burnett blew his first save of the year. Instead of watching it slip away, though, they wrested away a win they might not have gotten in the past, and probably shouldn’t have had on Friday.

“You can look at it the other way, too, and see a lot of the games you let slip away,” LaRoche said. “That’s what we want to eliminate. We don’t want to have a lot of games like tonight, where we’re in a position to win, and just come out short. To go out and get one in extra innings, and again have some great pitching, that can carry you for a while.”