The Nationals are back on the right side of .500, and they did it the hard way on Wednesday night. John Lannan was unable to throw strikes all night, putting the Nationals in an early 3-0 hole before he settled down. They took a 4-3 lead with the help of some mistakes by the Rockies, but missed a chance to extend it when Nyjer Morgan was called out for interference. Then they gave the lead back, and lost Ryan Zimmerman in the seventh inning when the third baseman's right hamstring cramped up on a seventh-inning double. All that, only to break a tie game in the eighth inning on Wil Nieves' RBI double. The end result was a 6-4 win that, like several other games this year, you can safely file in the category of games Washington wouldn't have won last year.
"Every game's going to be a battle for us," Lannan said. "We're not going to blow teams out. We've just got to go out and do the little things right, hopefully some calls go our way, we get base hits, relievers and starters go out and put zeros on the board, and that's all you can ask for."
Wil Nieves: Each year, the Nationals keep the catcher around as an insurance policy, fully intending to put two catchers in front of him. In 2008, he came in after Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada got hurt and the Nationals needed a backup for Jesus Flores. In 2009, Nieves took over when Flores got hurt in April, and split time with Josh Bard. This year, the Nationals had Ivan Rodriguez and Flores, and yet, Nieves is still around with Flores on the DL. And the catcher continues to show a knack for chipping in at the right times. His RBI double came after the Rockies walked Adam Kennedy - "It's a smart thing to do," Nieves said - and Jim Riggleman decided against pinch-hitting with Rodriguez because he didn't want the 38-year-old to have to catch on Wednesday. No matter. Nieves came through with an RBI double, his second hit of the night and the eventual game-winner. "They were looking for a double play. He threw me a fastball in, and I kind of got too excited and pulled it foul," Nieves said. "He just hung a slider up and away, and I just put a good swing on it. When I hit it, I'm like, 'Oh, they've got (Dexter) Fowler, their center fielder. He can run.' But then I saw it drop. It was a huge double."
Matt Capps: The closer walked a batter and gave up a hit, but struck out the side for his seventh save in seven tries. He came after the Rockies with mostly fastballs, and got out of the inning with a strikeout of Ian Stewart. A big part of the Nationals' ability to win these games with late-inning comebacks is confidence, and having a closer who's not blowing leads, like the Nationals did last year, is a big part of that confidence.
Josh Willingham: Willingham went 2-for-4 with two runs and RBI, saving his two hits for the most important times. His single to left in the third inning tied the game, and his line-drive base hit in the eighth inning nearly took Melvin Mora's glove off before it landed in left, starting the Nationals' rally.
Cristian Guzman: An 0-for-4 day at the plate cooled off the hot-hitting infielder, who is still batting .333 after the game. But Guzman hit into a double play in the seventh, which became doubly damaging when Ryan Zimmerman followed with a double.
Willie Harris: He was 0-for-3 at the plate, striking out twice, though his bunt groundout in the eighth inning did move Willingham into scoring position.
In Case You Missed It:
--Tyler Clippard got five swings and misses in two innings and 25 pitches. Compare that to three swings and misses in 71 pitches for John Lannan. Clippard was strong again on Wednesday night, and it's becoming clearer each day that hitters have yet to figure out his deceptive delivery. How long that will last remains to be seen. But he's locked in right now.
--When Riggleman came to the mound in the sixth inning after Lannan gave up two hits, he wasn't planning to take the starter out; he merely wanted to discuss the approach to Fowler, who was at the plate. Lannan threw a first-pitch fastball on the inner half of the plate, and Fowler grounded into an inning-ending double play. "I knew that he was going to let me face Fowler," Lannan said. "He was telling me just to make good pitches to him, because (Jason) Giambi was on deck. I knew I had a good chance of getting a double play if I made good pitches to him. That was my goal."
--Capps' six-pitch at-bat against Stewart in the ninth inning couldn't have been much simpler; he threw all fastballs, getting Stewart to swing at the first three and foul off two. Then, after missing with two fastballs, he came back to the same spot as the second one, which Stewart fouled off, barely scraping the corner of the strike zone and freezing Stewart for a game-ending called strikeout.
1. Of the Nationals' eight wins this year, how many of those games would they have won last year? Only one of them was by more than three runs, two were by one run and they've made late comebacks in several of those games, including last night's victory. When you look at the slate of early wins, how big of a difference do you see?
2. Jason Marquis is on the disabled list with loose bodies in his elbow. Should the Nationals have shut him down when he first mentioned discomfort 10 days ago, even though he said it was normal pain and he could pitch with it, or should they trust the player's opinion of his own health? This has been a hot-button issue for some of you, so I wanted to see what you thought.
3. What would you do with Ryan Zimmerman? Do you put him on the DL until he gets his hamstrings cleared up, or simply rest him for a couple days and see where it goes? The Nationals managed to win with a short bench last time Zimmerman was hurt, but had things gone any longer, they probably would have put him on the DL. What should they do this time?
I'll have more from the ballpark this afternoon, and the live thread will be ready to go, with our new GameZone package, in time for today's 4:35 start.