With quick strikes from the top, Nats lineup feasts all weekend

CINCINNATI - There were home runs, four of them during today’s 6-5 victory over the Reds, and four more during Saturday’s blowout win. The Nationals are going to hit a lot of home runs this season, given the thunder they have up and down their lineup.

But everything they did offensively this weekend during a season-opening sweep at Great American Ball Park began with one simple act from the first batter they sent to the plate. Adam Eaton led off Friday’s game with a single to right, then later scored to give the Nats an early lead. He led off Saturday’s game with a single to left, then later scored to give the Nats an early lead. And he led off today’s game with a single to right, then later scored to give the Nats an early lead.

The Nationals never trailed for one moment in this entire series. They only sat tied with the Reds (0-0) for a grand total of seven batters, never more than three batters into any single game. That’s the power of a good leadoff hitter, especially on the road. And that’s why Eaton - in a series in which he went bananas, going 8-for-13 with two doubles, two homers and a 1.874 OPS - perhaps did nothing more significant all weekend than what he did in his first at-bat of each game.

“It’s definitely part of the plan,” he said. “When you’re on the road, you want to get to starting pitchers early and make them work early. Hopefully that adds some longevity, so by the time you get to the fifth or the sixth you can get into their bullpen. That’s the plan. The plan’s really to get on base all the time. But that first at-bat, you usually want to work the count, if anything, and get on base some way, shape or form.”

anthony-rendon-batting-gray.pngEaton, who has already scored seven runs in three games, was able to coast around the bases in the top of the first today after Anthony Rendon followed his leadoff single with a laser off the second deck in left field to put the Nationals up 2-0.

That came one day after he coasted around the bases following Matt Adams’ three-run homer. Which came one day after he scored on Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly to left. Three games, three early leads, one very happy manager.

“We talk about it all the time: We want to put the pressure on the other team from the get-go,” Davey Martinez said. “And we’ve been doing that, and it’s good to see.”

The chief beneficiaries of the quick-strike offense have been the Nationals’ starting pitchers, each of whom was able to take the mound with a lead already in hand and thus go after hitters with some extra level of security.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Gio Gonzalez, who tossed six innings of one-run ball today to follow up strong outings by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

Not that the Nationals offensive production has been limited to the top of the first. They tacked on four more runs today later in the game, each time via a big blast. Harper led off the sixth with his first homer of the season, launching the ball halfway up the bleachers in right-center. Eaton supplied his second homer in as many days when he sent a two-run shot to right in the top of the seventh off veteran Yovani Gallardo. And then Harper matched his teammate for the club lead when he took electric closer Raisel Iglesias deep to center in the top of the ninth, capping a big afternoon.

Harper had hit a couple of balls hard through the first 2 1/2 games of the series but never got one past the warning track. It seemed only a matter of time before he cleared the fence.

“Just trying to go up there and have good ABs,” he said. “Get a pitch over the plate. My first two ABs, I didn’t have a pitch over the plate. And third AB, finally got one over the dish and did some damage.”

So it was that the Nationals opened the season with an offensive showcase, albeit one in a hitter-friendly park. They scored 21 runs (second-most in the National League), slugged .529 (tops in the NL) and launched eight homers (most in the majors).

“Our offense, it’s obviously plus,” said Gonzalez, who became the first Nationals pitcher to bat eighth since June 2011. “You’ve got Rendon and Trea (Turner), and obviously Adam Eaton getting on base, it helps a lot. And Bryce, doing what he’s doing, that’s a no-brainer.

“It’s fun to see those guys go up there, work the pitcher, get up there and put themselves in situations where we can get our big batter up there. It seems like everyone’s a big bat, except right now for the pitchers. We’re really just a thorn in our lineup.”

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