For about 10 days now the Washington Nationals have been beating up pitchers on an almost daily basis. On Independence Day in the Nation’s Capital, one of the best pitchers in the National League suffered the same fate.
The San Francisco Giants came to D.C. with the second best record in the National League, thanks mostly to their dominant pitching staff. On Tuesday, the Nats knocked two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum out after eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. On Wednesday, they got to Madison Bumgarner, who entered play with a 2.85 ERA — and left with a 3.57 mark after surrendering seven earned runs on nine hits and a walk in a 9-4 loss to the surging Nationals.
The Nats increased their N.L. best record to 15 games above .500 (47-32), matching their previous season high.
It was the Giants that jumped out early in this one, as a three-run first inning, highlighted by a Pablo Sandoval two-run home run, put the Nats — and starter Edwin Jackson — behind the eight-ball right off the bat. The way Bumgarner has pitched this season, he seldom needed more than three runs to secure a victory.
But the smoking hot Nationals bats would not let that be the case.
A three-run rally in the third off Bumgarner evened the score. Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot hitting with a double off the top of the left field wall, mere inches from the flower beds that reside there, to drive in Danny Espinosa, who singled two batters earlier. After Michael Morse walked to load the bases, Ian Desmond came through again with two outs, lacing a single up the middle to plate two and tie the game.
In the fourth, backup catcher Jhonatan Solano got a hold of a hanging slider and deposited it in the first row of the stands above the scoreboard in right center field to take a lead the Nats never relinquished.
The fifth inning brought more fireworks, as Zimmerman and Morse went back-to-back off Bumgarner, with Zimmerman’s bringing in Bryce Harper (2-for-4, two runs) to bust things open. Rick Ankiel added a two-run shot of his own in the eighth to cap the scoring.
Jackson settled down nicely after the first inning. He went 5 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits and two walks, striking out three. Much of that damage, though, came in that ugly first inning.
Zimmerman’s been one of the hottest hitters in the league the last 10 days after receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing right shoulder before the final game against the Orioles June 24. Since then, he’s hit .370 (17-for-46) with four homers, 16 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Morse has been no slouch himself, hitting .395 (17-for-43) with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored.
It’s amazing what having production from the middle of the order will do for a team.
“I always put it back to the middle of the lineup,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Those are the guys who are your best hitters, and when they struggle it has an effect on everybody else trying to do too much, trying to pick it up. … But when they’re doing their thing, everybody else is just looking for a pitch to hit hard and, consequently, you get better pitches to hit and you’re a better hitter.”
There’s an old adage that says one shouldn’t judge a team on a hot streak or a cold streak. But it’s hard not to be enthused about how the Nats are punishing the ball recently. Since Zimmerman “returned,” the Nats have scored 72 runs in 10 games.
That’s easy math. And it’s fun to watch on the field.
THE GOOD: The top four hitters in the lineup went 7-for-16 with two walks, two homers, four RBIs and six runs scored. That’s getting it done.
THE BAD: Bumgarner. A day after pounding Lincecum, they did the same to him. Bumgarner and Jordan Zimmerman have been the only regular N.L. starters not to give up more than four earned runs in a start this season. Only Zimmermann remains.
THE UGLY: Mark DeRosa. 0-for-3 at the plate with a K. Several ugly plays in the outfield, including missing the cut-off man in the first, which allowed a runner to move up to first. The next hitter hit a routine ground ball which should have ended the inning on a double play. Instead, it went for one out and scored a run. The next batter was Sandoval, who took Jackson deep.
THE STATS: 12 H, 4 BB, 9 K. 3-for-10 with RISP, 6 LOB, 2 GIDP. No errors, 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Thursday, July 5 at 7:05 pm against the Giants. Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.30) hosts All-Star Matt Cain (9-3, 2.53).
NATS NOTES: Chad Tracy is scheduled for a rehab appearance tonight for Single-A Potomac. Sandy Leon was activated from the MLB DL and optioned to Double-A Harrisburg.