The Nationals arrived in Pittsburgh on Friday after a three-game series in St. Louis that involved tornado warnings, three games in 24 hours and a two-hit shutout for Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse. They got rained out again Friday night, finding out they'd be spending their scheduled Monday off-day finishing their series against the Pirates, instead of playing a doubleheader on Saturday. And when they finally got on the field Saturday night, they lost a sloppy, frustrating 7-2 game to the Pirates.
Not only did the two homer for the first time in the same game this year, they drove in runs for the first time in the same game. And Morse's three-run blast was the first one he'd hit all year.
"That's what we've been waiting for," manager Jim Riggleman said. "When Mike's on top of his game, he gets extra-base hits, and he really got a very timely one there."
Here are the awards from yesterday:
Morse: He went 3-for-4 and his three-run homer put the Nationals up for good. Morse got an appetizing fastball (belt-high, middle-in), and he did what he was supposed to do with that pitch. He's 10-for-24 in his last seven games, but until the homer, all of the hits have been singles. The homer was the final step. "I guess you could say I'm getting started a little earlier (with my swing)," Morse said. "My timing's getting there."
LaRoche: Aside from Morse, there might not be anybody in the Nationals' lineup they needed to get going more than LaRoche. He's hitting cleanup, and is 2-for-21 with runners in scoring position this year. But his homer yesterday gave the Nationals an insurance run, and he added another base hit. He's a famously slow starter - his career average in March and April is .213 - but historically, he's improved almost every month of the season.
Danny Espinosa: There were lots of things to like about the way the Nationals played Sunday - Jason Marquis could have earned a Golden Goose for battling through six innings and contributing two hits of his own, and Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen combined for three shutout innings - but we'll give it to Espinosa for a 3-for-5 day, along with a stolen base. He's really starting to establish himself at the top of the Nationals' order; he's got an .814 OPS from the leadoff spot. You'd like his .314 OPS to be higher, but he's at least seeing pitches (3.81 per plate appearance).
Jayson Werth: A day after his homer, he was struggling again at the plate, going 0-for-5 with a run. Werth continues to work through swing adjustments with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, and he's hoping they'll produce more consistent results in a few days. But he's not there yet. He did, however, throw out Andrew McCutchen at home plate to end the game.
Alex Cora: After an 0-for-4 day at the plate, he's hitting .111, and struggled to make a strong enough throw to get Pedro Alvarez on a routine grounder in the first inning.
Jerry Hairston Jr.: Playing third base, Hairston made two throwing errors, including a wild throw in the ninth inning after he'd made a great barehanded stop. The ball got away from Espinosa, who was covering first, and then when Espinosa tried to throw it back into the infield from down the first base line, it slipped out of his and and went backward into the stands. The play didn't hurt the Nationals in the end, but you'll likely see it on an upcoming blooper real.
In Case You Missed It:
* In addition to contributing a pair of base hits, Marquis added to the Nationals' most well-documented aspect of aggressive baserunning this year, going first to third on an Espinosa single. He's actually 4-for-10 at the plate this year. "This is the kind of hitter he was in the past, too," Riggleman said. "I think not getting the consistent starts did not allow him to get consistent at-bats. When he has not missed starts in the past, starting pitchers get a lot of at-bats, and they can get into a little rhythm with the bats, too."
* On Werth's throw home to end the game, McCutchen and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle were livid with home plate umpire Kerwin Danley, claiming McCutchen had touched home plate before Ivan Rodriguez tagged him. Replays were inconclusive - several Nationals players said they thought McCutchen was probably safe, while one team official said he thought McCutchen's front foot was hovering over home plate and never actually touched it. But Werth made a great throw, hitting Rodriguez on the fly to throw out McCutchen, who ran into the third out at home plate with his team still down three runs.
1. Do you believe in Marquis? He's turned in four quality starts, and seems to be back to the pitcher he's been in the past. Is he doing enough to help erase the bad taste from last season, or are you worried that will come back?
2. Let's say LaRoche and Morse get going, and Ryan Zimmerman comes back healthy. The Nationals would have Espinosa, Werth, Zimmerman, LaRoche and Morse at the top of their order, with Rick Ankiel, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos in some order below them. Is that a good enough lineup to win consistently? If not, where do you still see holes?
Leave your answers in the comments section.