I've got to knock this out quick and get downstairs for the start of the Saturday work day, so I'll get right to it:
Adam Dunn: The first baseman had been in a long slump, fouling off some good pitches and looking at others. But manager Jim Riggleman kept saying he believed Dunn was close to breaking out of it. On Friday, he was right; Dunn hit two homers, kissing the third deck of Nationals Park with the first one, and added a walk for a whopping 3.417 OPS on Friday night. We'll see if Dunn can keep it going, but on Friday night, he looked like the power hitter the Nationals need.
Luis Atilano: You couldn't have asked a starter to do much more in his big-league debut than Atilano did in his. He allowed one run in six innings, keeping the Dodgers off-balance with two good breaking balls (a tight curveball and a slider) in addition to his fastball-changeup base. He got 11 groundouts in six innings, worked quick and mostly threw strikes (57 in 93 pitches). It was a textbook performance for Atilano, whose repertoire is similar to so many of the Nationals' pitchers. It worked for him on Friday, and he'll get another start in Jason Marquis' absence.
Tyler Clippard: In two innings of relief, the right-hander struck out four batters and didn't allow a baserunner. He got seven swings and misses in that time; it's clear that at least until batters adjust to him, Clippard's funky delivery is going to make him a tough matchup for many teams.
The Nationals' defense: It's been solid most of the year, but it was far from that on Friday night. The Nationals made three errors, one coming when Atilano failed to step on first base on an easy grounder and another when Nyjer Morgan overthrew the cutoff man, allowing Ronnie Belliard to take second base on a single that wouldn't have been a hit had Morgan not lost it in the lights. Fortunately for the Nationals, none of the mistakes cost them.
Willie Harris: He was 0-for-3 with a walk, and swung at a 3-0 pitch on the puzzling bases-loaded double play in the eighth inning where Harris was called out for abandoning first base, either because he thought he'd already been forced out at first base before Belliard threw home or because he forgot how many outs there were.
Ivan Rodriguez: With an 0-for-3 night, including two GIDPs, Rodriguez showed signs of cooling off at the plate, and he came out of the game with lower back stiffness. He wasn't scheduled to catch on Saturday anyway, and could be back on Sunday.
In Case You Missed It:
--Morgan missed a diving attempt at Blake Dewitt's double in the sixth inning, but Josh Willingham made a nice play to back up the ball, relaying to the infield before Belliard could score. That kept the runners at second and third, and Atilano got out of the inning with a groundout. But had Willingham not saved a run, the game would've been tied at that point.
--Here's the official MLB rule that applied to Harris' double play -- 7.08(2): "Any runner is out when, after touching first base, he leaves the baseline, obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base." And the commentary on the rule says, "Any runner after reaching first base who leaves the baseline heading for the dugout or his position believing that there is no further play, may be declared out if the umpire judges the act of the runner to be considered abandoning his effort to run the bases. Even though an out is called, the ball remains in play in regard to any other runner." So there you go. It's still a little unclear why Harris abandoned, but the fact that he did meant he was out.
--Both Morgan and Dunn said facing knuckleballer Charlie Haeger was like playing softball, or as Dunn put it, "softball without the beer coolers." Third-base coach Pat Listach threw Morgan some knucklers in batting practice on Friday, and Dunn saw a few from closer Matt Capps, who claimed he could throw a good knuckeball. Because the pitch is so much slower, Morgan said it's like softball because of the timing; you've seemingly got to wait forever for the pitch to get there, instead of being ready to jump on a fastball like you normally would. He said Haeger was only throwing the knuckler in pitcher's counts - 0-0, 0-1, etc. But as soon as he got behind, Morgan said, he abandoned (word of the day) the pitch for a fastball.
1. How encouraged are you by Dunn's two-homer day? Do you believe he's out of his slump based on what you saw, or do you need to see more? Power hitters go through long slumps like the one Dunn endured, but when they break out, they can get hot in a hurry. What's your take?
2. What did you make of Atilano - poise, stuff, ability to get out of jams, etc.? Give me your three-line scouting report.
3. The Nationals made three errors on Friday night and didn't pay for any of them, as I discussed in the game story. They're now 9-8, with five of those wins coming against playoff teams from last year. Strong start, or sign that something's changed from the bumbling team we saw the last two years?
Leave your answers in the comments section, and we'll have the live thread at 1. And if you're going to be here for the game, I'm doing a little get-together in the Red Loft beforehand. Hope to see you there.