WASHINGTON – On Monday night, the Washington Nationals once again pulled off another win at home as they defeated the Houston Astros, 6-3, in the opening contest of a three-game seat.
The Nats have won six out of their last eight games and sit atop the National League East with an 8-3 record.
Before the game, Washington manager Davey Johnson decided to sit second baseman Danny Espinosa to give him a break, as he is struggling at the plate with a .194 average.
Steve Lombardozzi – who has been somewhat of a forgotten man on the bench this season and looking for regular playing time on a talented roster – stepped in for Espinosa.
During Spring Training, everyone knew that Lombardozzi could do the job with the bat and was a serviceable ballplayer. The conundrum was this: does he play every day in the minors at Syracuse, or he does suit up in the big leagues and get a few hundred at-bats in 2012?
Well, the team brass decided to let him join the Opening Day roster. In the end, Johnson’s insertion of Lombardozzi into Monday’s lineup move would payoff for the Nationals.
Thus, Lombardozzi – a Maryland native from Howard County – made the most of his start.
He came through in a clutch moment in the sixth inning, delivering a two-run double to left-field in the sixth inning that broke a game deadlocked at two. His hit plated in Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina and it sparked a four-run rally. When the frame concluded, two more runs would come in via Ryan Zimmerman two-run single that scored Ian Desmond and Lombardozzi.
The Nationals took that 6-2 lead into the seventh inning and did not look back.
Overall, Lombardozzi banged out four hits and drove in four runs. His effort helped Washington starter Stephen Strasburg (2-0) earn his second win of the young season.
Strasburg rolled through the first five innings without incident. However, the big right-hander ran into trouble in the sixth with Washington leading 2-0.
Strasburg battled through the frame, giving up back-to back singles to Jordan Schafer and Jed Lowrie before loading the bases by walking J.D. Martinez.
It looked as if like Strasburg was going to pull a rabbit out of hit cap and perhaps escape the inning unscathed as he got two hard-fought outs – via a Carlos Lee flyout to right field and a Travis Buck strikeout.
Sadly, moments later, Chris Johnson ripped a base hit to right plating both Schafer and Lowrie, tying the game at two. Strasburg was able to retire Jason Castro and end the frame, but he labored through it and exited the contest thereafter.
He went six strong innings and allowed two runs – both earned – on six hits. He struck out five and walked one. His ERA right now sits at a miniscule 1.42.
Meanwhile, Kyle Weiland (0-2) took the loss for the Houston Astros. He gave up six runs – all earned – on ten hits. He walked four and struck out two.
The Nationals got on the scoreboard first in the third inning as they took a 1-0 lead off an Ian Desmond double. They raised the score to 2-0 as catcher Wilson Ramos homered to right-center field for his first long-ball of the season.
The two teams play again on Tuesday night. The game will feature a matchup of two pretty good pitchers as Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals squares off against Wandy Rodriguez.
Notes: I will also mention Rick Ankiel’s effort in the outfield. You can debate his merits as an everyday player his plate discpline; however, you cannot discount his ability as a fielder.
He went 1-for-4 on the night and is only batting .164; however, in the sixth inning, fans got to see how amazing his arm is.
Jordan Schafer, who was on third, had an opportunity to tag up after a Carlos Lee flyout that Ankiel caught in right-center field.
Ankiel – who was probably a good three hundred feet away from home plate – rifled the ball to Ramos in a perfect line to the dish. It was literally like he threw a strike from the outfield.
Perhaps knowing better, Schafer stayed at third. If the runner decided to tag up, he would have been dead at home.
Of course, Houston would score twice that inning, so Schafer and his third base coach made a wise decision.
Also, Ryan Zimmerman, who has been struggling, went 2-for-4 at the plate. His average is now at .209.