Heading home and heating up

PITTSBURGH - I’ve managed to make it through a two-city road trip without losing my cell phone charger, which for me is a remarkable feat.

I’m quite proud of myself, if you couldn’t already tell.

The Nationals have reason to be proud of themselves, as well. They finish this road trip, one which started with two more tough losses to the Braves, by winning four of their last five and scoring at least five runs in consecutive games for the first time since April 10-11.

Yup, it had been three whole weeks since the last time the Nats put up at least a five-spot in back-to-back contests.

There were a number of positives that the Nats can take out of this road trip. Dan Haren looks like he’s starting to put things together. Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos are back healthy, and are producing. Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina might be coming around offensively after slow starts. Rafael Soriano is starting to pile up saves by the boatload.

The pitching is still somewhat inconsistent, but as a whole, the offense might be starting to come alive a little bit.

One major catalyst for that appears to be Adam LaRoche, who went 5-for-10 with two doubles over his last four games. He made a number of loud outs and also drew six walks during that stretch, meaning he’s reached base in 11 of his last 17 plate appearances. You can tell he’s starting to get locked in.

The Pirates wanted no part of LaRoche in the eighth inning yesterday, choosing to intentionally walk him with first base open to get to Moore. Moore factored into that decision - he’d struck out in his previous three at-bats - but the Pirates had seen tape of the kind of swings LaRoche was taking against the Braves and could tell he was hitting a groove.

“I think when a guy’s feeling good at the plate, you notice it,” LaRoche said. “I notice it on the defensive side. You can tell when somebody’s getting locked in. So I think that’s part of it, yeah. A week ago, they don’t think twice there. I’m getting pitched to.”

LaRoche is as streaky a hitter as you’ll find in the game, capable of going through an 0-for-26 stretch, as he did from April 21-28 and then going on a run and catching fire. The deep slump has passed, and the fire might be coming.

“Personally, feeling a lot better, obviously,” LaRoche said. “Felt great in Atlanta. Not a ton of hits there, but squared some balls up, felt really good. Making some strides, and for some reason, I feel like when I get going, we just score more runs. The fact that when I’m going, a lot of guys are hitting and pushing more runs across.”

Danny Espinosa is one of those guys. Espinosa had three hits during the Pirates series, two for extra-bases. He drove in four over the last three days, and his two-run homer yesterday gave the Nats a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Nats faced two left-handed starters the last two days, giving Espinosa a chance to get a string of at-bats from the right side, which has been his better side over his major league career.

“They pitched me tough,” Espinosa said. “I didn’t feel I was really getting my bat to the ball well. Was getting a little tied up. And I finally made a little bit of an adjustment and started getting the bat head out a little more. But I felt good.

“I haven’t had many at-bats (against lefties). I said it in spring training - I haven’t been getting a lot of right-handed at-bats, so to get seven, eight at-bats right handed, it felt really good just to kind of get comfort and get my rhythm down. I was up there and I just felt stiff. I was finally able to get just a good string of right-handed at-bats together. It felt good.”

Now it’s home for two against the reigning American League champion Tigers and three against the lowly Cubs. Today’s off-day will allow some of the guys with bumps and bruises to heal up, and then the Nats will attempt to keep the momentum going.

“I thought we turned this week around pretty well, losing the first two in Atlanta and then coming back and beating them,” Espinosa said. “I thought we did a great job as a team putting some wins together and being a little successful, and go back home right now and keep it going.”

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