The Washington Nationals haven’t lost at home yet this season. Led by five innings of competency by starter Dan Haren, a timely big hit by Ryan Zimmerman, and a few shut-down innings by the bullpen, the Nats ran their overall record to a stellar 7-2 win a 7-4 win over the Chicago White Sox, before a crowd of 24,785 at Nationals Park.
After two home series sweeps, the Nats clean slate will be challenged by division rival Atlanta over the weekend. But for now, that pristine 6-0 record at home is pretty to look at.
The Nats took a bit of a different tack to win Thursday night’s game — at least on offense. Where the home run has been integral so far in the young season, the Nats pieced together an attack against the Sox rookie hurler Dylan Axelrod. The Nats made Axelrod work and forced him from the game early. Of course, Nats starter Dan Haren threw a lot of pitches too, but did a better job than his counterpart limiting the damage.
Haren (W, 1-1, 9.00), to his credit, did not walk a batter, though he did give up 10 hits in his five innings of work. He struck out five in the effort and held the Sox to three earned runs despite pitching in and out of trouble all night.
The Nats scored first in this one. With one out in the first, Jayson Werth singled after on the tenth pitch of his at bat. After Bryce Harper popped up, Werth stole second ahead of Ryan Zimmerman drawing a base on balls. The next batter, Adam LaRoche, singled to the opposite field to plate Werth and give Haren something to work with.
That didn’t last long, unfortunately, as Paul Konerko led off the second with a single, took third on Conor Gillaspie’s double to right field, and scored on Tyler Flowers’ ground out to short.
Washington’s attack went back to it in the third off Axelrod (L, 0-1, 5.79). Denard Span led off with a single, stole second and took third on Werth’s fly out to right field. Harper singled to center to score Span and give the lead back to the Nats. Zimmerman drew another walk and LaRoche did as well to load the bases. Ian Desmond delivered Harper with a sacrifice fly to center to put the Nats up 3-1.
Chicago came right back in the fourth off Haren. Gillaspie singled to lead off and went to second on Axelrod’s botched sacrifice that ended up a bunt single. Alejandro De Aza singled to right to plate Gillaspie and Axelrod moved up to third when the throw missed the cut off man. Jeff Keppinger followed with a single to left, scoring Axelrod to tie it back up.
But the Nats were undaunted and continued to peck away in the bottom of the inning. Haren helped himself out with a one-out double and took third on Werth’s single with two outs. Axelrod started Harper off 1-0 then uncorked a wild pitch, which scored Haren. Axelrod then gave Harper an intentional walk — the first of his career — to bring up Zimmerman again.
The veteran third baseman got into a 3-2 count before making Axlerod pay and delivering big time — a double to right field that scored both Werth and Harper. The hit turned what was a back-and-forth affair into a good lead for the home team.
The Sox picked up their fourth run of the night in the sixth inning off reliever Ryan Mattheus, with Adam Dunn doubling in De Aza, who had singled earlier in the inning. Mattheus pitched two innings and struck out three. He allowed the one run on two hits and a walk.
The Nats got that run back later, with Harper driving in Span on a two-out single to provide the 7-4 final score.
All that was left was for Tyler Clippard to pitch a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano to toss a clean ninth inning to record his fifth save of the season.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman. 1-for-2 with two walks, but the hit was a big one, breaking the game open. Can’t imagine too many folks are going to be willing to put Harper on ahead of Zimmerman this season.
THE BAD: Wilson Ramos went 0-for-4 with a K.
THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, lowering his April average to .182, before being lifted in a double switch late in the game.
THE STATS: 10 hits, 6 BBs, 6 Ks. 5-for-11 with RISP, 8 LOB. No errors, no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Friday night, April 12 against the Atlanta Braves (8-1) at 7:05 pm. Ross Detwiler (0-0, 0.00) hosts Julio Teheran (0-0, 9.00).