MIAMI - The Nationals' offense, so far this year, has been in an unhealthy pattern; it hasn't been able to manufacture runs, despite lacking the kind of power hitters and high on-base percentage players at the top of the lineup it typically takes to score another way. But in the second inning tonight, things finally clicked for them.
In putting together a three-run second inning with only two balls leaving the infield, the Nationals did a few things well. First, Rick Ankiel drew a walk, which he's done in 8.2 percent of his career plate appearances. With Ankiel on first, a hole opened up for Danny Espinosa on the right side of the infield. Batting left-handed, he punched a single through the hole, and Ankiel alertly went from first to third. That's one of the situations where there's a benefit to not stealing a base; the effect of having a runner on first helped the hitter, the Nationals didn't put a rally at risk by trying to run and Ankiel took the base he could have stole on the single.
Putting him on third base also meant the Nationals would still score if Ivan Rodriguez hit into a double play. He didn't, hitting into a fielder's choice and reaching safely when Ankiel slid headfirst around a tag at home. Then, Livan Hernandez and Ian Desmond dropped down back-to-back perfect bunts, with Hernandez moving runners ahead and Desmond driving in a run with his single. Finally, Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly to right scored Rodriguez.
Now, would it have been better for Zimmerman to hit a homer with the bases loaded, instead of lofting a sac fly? Of course. And Desmond almost killed the inning on that play, running to third and barely beating a tag that would have made him the third out before Rodriguez crossed home. But it's good for the Nationals to see they can manufacture some runs when they need to.
It's 3-0 Nationals after three innings, with Livan Hernandez having thrown 47 pitches to this point, including just 12 in a 1-2-3 third. Chris Volstad has thrown 58 in three innings.