For the better part of eight innings, the Washington Nationals held a small, but seemingly comfortable, lead over the Philadelphia Phillies, missing much of the roster that for the last five years have seen them run roughshod over the N.L. East. But in the ninth inning, clinging to a 2-0 lead, Davey Johnson might have finally found a breaking point with Henry Rodriguez.
After another ninth inning melt-down by Hot Rod, Sean Burnett came on to save a 2-1 win and make a winner of Gio Gonzalez after another quality start. The Nats have taken three of four this year from the Phillies, and have gone 12-3 against the former bullies in the last 15 meetings between the division rivals.
Rodriguez entered to face the Phillies sixth, seventh and eighth place hitters after Craig Stammen did the heavy lifting in the seventh and eighth. Hot Rod threw four straight balls to leadoff hitter John Mayberry, with two getting past catcher Jesus Flores and going to the wall behind home plate.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty came out to calm Rodriguez down, and it looked like that might do the trick, as shortstop Freddie Galvis swung at a high fastball and lifted a fly ball to Bryce Harper in right for the first out of the inning. On an 0-1 pitch to Mike Fontenot though, Rodriguez uncorked another wild pitch and Mayberry moved up to second base. At that point, Johnson asked Sean Burnett to start warming up. Two pitches later, Fontenot singled to center but Mayberry didn’t get a good jump and was held at third base.
Ty Wigginton pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot, and on Rodriguez’ first offering he sent another pitch to the backstop. Fontenot moved up but Mayberry couldn’t see where the ball was held at third. At that point, Johnson has seen all he cared to of Hot Rod and made his way slowly to the mound to yank the struggling de facto closer.
Burnett entered and got Wigginton to fly to right — deep enough to score Mayberry — and after a walk to Hector Luna, he retired Placido Polanco on a soft line drive to second to end the game.
After the game, Johnson conceded that perhaps Rodriguez shouldn’t be the first option in the bullpen, at least for the time being. He told reporters, “I’m going to sleep on it but I’m looking at alternatives.”
All the drama of the ninth inning clouded another terrific performance from starter Gio Gonzalez. The lefty struck out nine in six innings, giving up just three hits and three walks, running his record to 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA. He also eclipsed teammate Stephen Strasburg for the N.L. strikeout leadership, but it seems they’ll be trading that mantel all season long.
Stammen did yeoman’s work in middle relief, throwing two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one.
The Nats offense was supplied by Ian Desmond. The newly minted five-hole hitter homered (7) and drove in another with a single. He and Bryce Harper had four of the Nats five hits.
THE GOOD: It was the Gio and Desi show. Gonzalez turned in another stellar performance and Desmond just keeps on driving in runs.
THE BAD: Ryan Zimmerman was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Every time it looks like he’s ready to break out he has another clunker like this one.
THE UGLY: Hot Rod. Davey might be struggling with the decision, but it’s fairly obvious that Rodriguez needs to find himself in lower leverage situations for a while. His 100-MPH fastball and “Bugs Bunny” breaking ball don’t do any good if he can’t hit the catcher’s mitt.
THE STATS: 5 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 1-for-5 with RISP, 3 LOB, 1 GIDP. No errors, 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:05 pm at the Phillies. Jordan Zimmermann (2-4, 2.58) faces Roy Halladay (4-3, 3.22).