The Nationals dropped the Diamondbacks 4-2 Thursday afternoon at Nats Park to win the series, and they now head off to Philadelphia to begin a five-game two-city road trip.
That was all well and good, but the biggest postgame concern centered around the health of right fielder Bryce Harper who left the game in the seventh inning.
Harper was replaced by Chris Heisey after finishing 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. His diving catch in right field of a liner from Diamondbacks starting pitcher Braden Shipley in the third inning was the play many speculated was the reason for the exit.
Manager Dusty Baker said Harper was pulled due to groin tightness in his left leg and “precautionary reasons.” Harper is listed day-to-day.
Harper said he felt the groin tighten up on that big defensive play early in the game.
“Got it a little bit on the fly ball,” Harper said. “That dive. I gotta stop diving, trying to catch fly balls too much. Just felt it a little bit. Little tight. Felt good in my second at-bat. Third at-bat, grounded out to second. In that last at-bat, just felt it a little bit too much, so just trying to get out of there and get some treatment. Everybody knows I want to play in Philly, so.”
Baker agrees Harper’s vicious swings might of played a part in the slight pain in the groin.
“He was swinging mighty hard, but he always swings mighty hard,” Baker said. “I saw him in the dugout and asked him how he’s doing and he said, ‘Man, it’s not doing too good.’ And so we didn’t want to take a chance.”
Baker said this is the first time this season he has heard Harper having an issue with the left groin. Harper agreed the training staff made the right decision to call it a day.
“They want to be smart. If we feel it during the game, they want us out of there,” Harper said. “They talked to me before and said, ‘Hey, just be smart. If you feel it, just make sure you’re getting in there, getting treatment.’ I felt it a little bit, and I made sure to get in there, get with (executive director, medical services) Harvey (Sharman) and hopefully get ready for tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, right-hander Max Scherzer kept his former team at bay. He tallied seven innings, allowing one run on two hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts.
The Diamondbacks looked to attack Scherzer from the outset. But they were unable to score until Jake Lamb launched a solo homer in the seventh.
“He had a good outing,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said of Scherzer’s win. “He shut down a very good offensive team. We felt we needed to put pressure on him. It didn’t work out.”
Scherzer did well to get going early, surrendering two walks and a single in the first four innings.
“Max was outstanding,” Baker said. “That’s probably the best slider that he’s had this season. And he located his fastball well. But he had the slider working for him from the very first inning. And when Max has the slider working, that kind of steps up everything else.”
Scherzer pointed to his off-speed pitch, which he believed was a major reason why he racked up a season-high 11 strikeouts. He made a point to make that a part of the strategy when he spoke with catcher Jose Lobaton before the game.
“I thought I needed to start incorporating the change-up to righties today,” Scherzer acknowledged. “That’s something I had said in our little meeting. ‘Hey, even first batter of the game, if we get in a situation to throw a change to (A.J.) Pollock, let’s do it.’ I was able to get to it early, and was able to pitch with a changeup today. I feel like that’s when I pitch my best, when I’m pitching with all my pitches and sequencing and just letting Loby back there do the fun work.”
Despite the bullpen allowing a late homer to Paul Goldschmidt off Joe Blanton, Enny Romero came on to continually throw strikes, and at a blistering 100 mph. Romero came away with his first save of the season, finishing the ninth allowing no runs on one hit with two strikeouts.
“The key is my arm,” Romero said. “When I keep my arm stay close to my body, I can throw more strikes. When I have my delivery quick, I can figure out something in my delivery. After that, I can come in and throw strikes.”
Blanton is still a concern. But Baker said that Goldschmidt was the only batter he was going to face anyway. It just didn’t work out this time.
“The plan was just (one batter) because Goldschmidt hadn’t had any success against him,” Baker said. “Just goes to show you the numbers and the stats are wrong.”
It was big to get a solid inning from their fireballer Romero, especially with closer Shawn Kelley out sick. Baker doesn’t know if Kelley will be feeling better by Friday’s opener in Philadelphia. Kelley hasn’t appeared in a game since April 29.
The Nationals closed the book on another series win, their fourth at home this season and against an Arizona team (17-13) that arrived five games above .500.
“They’re playing well. They look like a great team,” Harper said. “That’s a tough division out there. Really good team out there. Happy to be able to take two out of three and go into Philly and Baltimore.”