The Nationals' win over the Phillies Tuesday night may have seemed all about Jayson Werth, but part of it was about the two pitchers (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) the Nationals haven't faced yet.
Those two former Cy Young Award winners will pitch tonight and tomorrow, respectively, and with Joe Blanton on the mound for the Phillies last night, the Nationals knew they needed to get a win early in the series. They did that on Tuesday, beating the Phillies 7-4 and evening their record at 5-5. And even if they get shut down the next two nights by Halladay and Lee, they won't get swept.
"Getting a game from them was a big win," Werth said. "With the guys they've got going the next two nights, this is a game we definitely needed. Hopefully we can pick up one more of those games, win the series and keep moving forward."
Here are the awards from last night:
Werth: He mostly downplayed the significance of his homer against his old team, though he did allow that the fifth-inning shot off Blanton was "a little bit" more special because it came against the Phillies. But his 2-for-3 performance, which included a walk, came at a perfect time - not only to make a statement against the Phillies, but to lift the Nationals with Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse all out of the lineup.
Wilson Ramos: The catcher went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs, a RBI and a walk. It's becoming clearer and clearer that he should get most of the starts at catcher, and with Zimmerman and Morse out of the lineup, he did a capable job hitting fifth in the Nationals' lineup.
Livan Hernandez: In the longest outing of the year so far by any Nationals starter, Hernandez threw strikes effectively (69 in 98 pitches) and allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings. Riggleman took him out in the seventh inning after he'd given up three singles to load the bases. But he struck out John Mayberry for the second out of the inning, and Tyler Clippard got the final out.
Ian Desmond: After a good week on the road, the second-year shortstop got back to struggling at home in the leadoff spot. He went 0-for-5 with a strikeout, swinging at the first pitch in two of his at-bats and seeing just 14 pitches overall.
Nationals' bullpen: Clippard and Sean Burnett have been so good early this year, they were bound to struggle at some point. That came on Tuesday night, when Clippard allowed a hit, two runs and a walk in the eighth after getting the final strikeout of the seventh inning. One of his best pitches is his high fastball, but he was elevating the ball so much that he couldn't get hitters to bite on it, and he only threw 10 strikes in 21 pitches. When he left, Burnett suddenly came into a save situation - though a five-run lead with the tying run on deck isn't exactly the most difficult save in the world. Nevertheless, Burnett gave up a run, ending his scoreless streak of 22 2/3 innings, which was the longest in Nationals history.
In Case You Missed It:
* WIth their sixth sacrifice bunt, the Nationals' pitching staff moved into the National League lead in sac bunting. And they also got their third successful squeeze in 10 days on the same play, when Hernandez dropped a bases-loaded bunt down the first base line in the sixth inning. The bunt sign wasn't on with one out, so when Hernandez decided to put the bunt down himself, it meant Laynce Nix had to be alert at third base. "He threw me a cutter, and I knew I had a chance to bunt it," Hernandez said. "It came out a little long. Because (Ryan) Howard's so far out, he comes in on a little line drive, it's going to be a ground ball out. I'm thinking the guy's going to throw to home plate. I started running, and I said, 'Uh-oh.'" He apologized to Nix after the play for making him take off, but everything worked out. "He shouldn't (apologize), because he put down a good bunt," Nix said. "But I did have to get it in the next gear."
* With the bases loaded and Hernandez facing John Mayberry in the sixth inning, the right-hander threw Mayberry a couple curveballs, including one clocked at 62 mph on a 1-2 pitch that got Mayberry to miss far out in front of the pitch. Ramos had to block a couple of the pitches, and with the bases loaded, it was crucial he was able to do it successfully. "Our catchers really do that well," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We've got two good athletes back there (with Ramos and Ivan Rodriguez). It's taken for granted sometimes, but that's huge."
1. This, at least in my mind, will probably go down as one of the more memorable games of the season, with the Nationals controlling their first home game against the Phillies (remember how the first home game with the Phillies went last year?) and Werth coming up big against his former team. How significant was it for you? Let me know your thoughts on the win.
2. Danny Espinosa had a couple walks, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and scored another one. He's now got a .417 on-base percentage, and with Ryan Zimmerman out, the Nationals' lineup is in a bit of flux. Is this the time to try him in either the leadoff or No. 2 spot?
Leave your answers in the comments section. The Nationals and Phillies are back at it tonight, with John Lannan facing Roy Halladay in a rematch of last year's opening day game.