Bringing the bats back

In his major league debut, Nathan Karns faced an Orioles squad that has smacked the most homers in the majors. In his second big league outing, Karns will get the Braves, the team with the second-most homers in the bigs.

The 25-year-old right-hander isn’t exactly getting eased into action at this level, is he?

Karns pitched pretty well last night in his first major league start, allowing three runs over 4 1/3 innings against a potent Orioles lineup. He didn’t go the five innings needed to qualify for a win, but he did play a big part in helping the Nationals pick up a W over their Mid-Atlantic neighbors.

It certainly helped, of course, that the Nationals pounded out nine runs on 13 hits, marking their biggest single-game run total in over six weeks.

They’ve had a couple of offensive spurts recently, but haven’t been able to carry any of that offensive momentum over a more extended period. A five- or six-run game has seemingly always been followed by a poor offensive performance the next night, leaving a previously chipper Davey Johnson again looking for answers.

The Nats hit four home runs last night, tying a season high. Those four homers came from three guys - Adam LaRoche (who hit a three-run shot in the first and a solo shot in the eighth), Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina.

Moore and Bernadina went into last night’s game hitting .152 and .121 on the season, respectively. They’ve both been struggling mightily after making big impacts off the bench last season, but combined to go 3-for-8 with four RBIs in last night’s win. With Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper banged up, Moore and Bernadina will continue to get playing time, and the Nats need them to continue to deliver.

“Those guys are very capable, and seeing them come around, that takes the pressure off a lot of guys,” Johnson said last night. “I mean, the lineup, one-fourth of it has been dormant. So it was huge today.”

Moore, who slugged one home run every 15.6 at-bats in 2012, came into yesterday’s game with just one homer in 79 at-bats on the season. He now has a hit in each of his last five games, and two of those hits are for extra bases.

Bernadina entered this series hitting .113 with just one extra-base hit in 62 at-bats this season. He’s had very few offensive moments to be proud of this year, but has stayed positive and benefited from being in the starting lineup back-to-back days.

“I’m a confident guy,” Bernadina said. “Davey gave me lately some more ABs so I can get in. It was hard in the beginning, but it’s a long season, and you’ve got to keep fighting. You never know when you’ll find your groove again.”

Outside of Bernadina and Moore, the other guy to homer last night - LaRoche - is without a doubt in a groove right now. After putting up a paltry .136/.213/.259 slash line through the month of April, LaRoche has absolutely caught fire.

Take a look at what the 33-year-old has done thus far in May: .341/.412/.648 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs. He’s drawn 13 walks in 25 games, smacked 12 extra-base hits and even swiped two bases this month.

Yeah, I guess Johnson will take all of that.

For those who have been spending much of the first two months of the season arguing the Nats made a huge mistake by re-signing LaRoche and trading Michael Morse, here’s a side-by-side comparison of what the two sluggers have done through yesterday’s action:

LaRoche: .243/.325/.462 (.786 OPS), 10 HR, 27 RBI, 21 BBs, 53 Ks in 169 at-bats
Morse: .254/.321/.468 (.789 OPS), 11 HR, 21 RBI, 15 BBs, 46 Ks in 173 at-bats

Pretty darn similar, huh? Factor in LaRoche’s superior defense and he gets the edge thus far, at least in my book.

Regardless, the Nats need that type of production to continue from LaRoche and from the guys at the bottom of their lineup, as well. The Nats are 20-0 this season when scoring at least five runs, which says all you need to know. Get at least a decent performance from the pitchers and bring the bats to the party, and the Nats will walk away with a win more often than not.

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