What a difference a couple of days makes.
After falling below .500 for the fist time since 2011 earlier in the week, the Washington Nationals found the elixir to their problems in a strange place: the very good Cincinnati Reds. The Nats used a strong starting performance from Dan Haren, some timely defense, and another blast by Bryce Harper to beat the Reds, 6-3, for their third straight victory against the N.L. Central powerhouse, before an appreciative 38,903 at Nationals Park.
Haren (W, 2-3, 6.29) earned his second win of the season, going six strong innings, and looked more like the pitcher the Nats thought they were buying this off-season than the one that was kicked around in his first few starts. And Denard Span showed again why GM Mike Rizzo was so keen on the center fielder, as he made a pair of run saving catches in the late innings to save the Nats’ collective bacon.
The Nats (13-11) jumped out in the second off Reds starter Mike Leake (L, 1-1, 4.34). Showing uncommon patience, Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon drew consecutive one-out walks to get the rally started. Kurt Suzuki popped out for the second out of the inning to bring up Haren. Haren, one of the better hitting pitchers in the game, fouled off a couple of pitches until he got one he could handle, and he flipped a single into right on the fifth pitch of the at bat to plate Desmond for the Nats first run. Denard Span followed with a ground ball single to center to score Rendon.
They went back at it in the third. Bryce Harper led off with a single to left and went to second on Werth’s infield single. After Adam LaRoche popped out, Ian Desmond delivered with a single to center to bring home Harper. Rendon took a called strike three and Suzuki grounded to third, but Reds 3B Jack Hannahan threw wide trying for the force at second base and the ball got away, allowing Werth to score the Nats fourth run of the game.
The Reds got one back in the fourth inning. Joey Votto doubled to left field with two outs and scored on Brandon Phillips single. Haren ended the rally, striking out Jay Bruce on three pitches.
Harper continued his hot April, launching his ninth home run of the season in the bottom of the inning. His two-run shot came with Danny Espinosa on board after a fielder’s choice wiped out Span’s second hit of the game, a single to center to lead off the inning.
The Reds chipped away at the Nats lead in the later innings. They got one off Haren in the sixth, as Shin-Soo Choo led off the frame with a solo home run. Haren escaped the inning without further damage, completing his best appearance of the season. The veteran right-hander allowed just two runs and six hits over six innings, walking none and striking out five.
In the seventh, manager Davey Johnson called upon Zach Duke to face three straight lefty batters and it didn’t work out all that well. Jay Bruce reached via throwing error by Danny Espinosa, and Xavier Paul followed with a base on balls. Duke retired Hannahan and Devin Mesoraco, and Reds manager Dusty Baker then called on Todd Frazier to pinch-hit for pitcher Alfredo Simon.
Johnson countered with Tyler Clippard, and the normally reliable righty showed rust from being off for a couple of days. Frazier singled to score Bruce, then Clipaprd walked Choo to load the bases for shortstop Zach Cozart. Cozart crushed a 1-0 pitch to center that looked like it would clear the bases, but for the second inning in a row, center fielder Denard Span made a game-saving catch, running down Cozart’s blast to end the threat.
Rafael Soriano retired the side in order in the ninth for his seventh save of the season, but Span should get credit for the save in this one.
THE GOOD: Denard Span. Made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Joey Votto of extra bases in the sixth and let Haren enjoy his best game of the season, Then in the seventh, made an even better catch of a potentially much more damaging drive from Cozart against Clippard. Moar UZR, please.
THE BAD: Tyler Clippard. Not sharp at all. Really bailed out by Span. 12 pitches, five for strikes.
THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa: 0-for-4. .174/.219/.348. Adam LaRoche: 0-for-4. .143/.221/.286.
THE STATS: 10 hits, 5 BBs, 5 Ks. 4-for-12 with RISP, 8 LOB. E: Espinosa (1, throw); 3 DPs.
NEXT GAME: Sunday at 1:35 pm against the Reds. Ross Detwiler (1-1. 1.38) hosts lefty Tony Cingrani (1-0, 2.25).