The Washington Nationals sit atop the N.L. East so far this season mostly on the strength of their pitching staff, most notably their dominant starting pitching. But in sweeping three straight from division rival Atlanta Braves over the weekend, the Nats hitters served notice that as the weather starts to warm up, they too can contribute to the winning ways.
The Nationals scored 22 runs in three games, besting the fourth-place Braves by the count of 7-4 Friday night, 8-4 Saturday and 7-2 Sunday.
Sunday: Gio Gonzalez survived a bit of a rough start — forced throw 28 pitches in the first inning — but calmed down nicely, allowing just one hit through seven innings, though he did walk three and allow two earned runs. But he got better as the game wore on, striking out 10 Braves along the way, including eight of the last ten out he recorded, en route to a 7-2 win on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
Gonzalez (W, 7-1, 2.04) got help from battery-mate Jesus Flores, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs before leaving the game with a slight right hamstring strain. According to manager Davey Johnson after the game, Flores does not appear to be injured too badly, and was scheduled to be off for Monday’s day game against Florida regardless.
Bryce Harper had two of the Nats’ nine hits, including his fourth home run of the season, a no-doubt-about-it shot off “Mr. National” Livan Hernandez in the eighth inning. In the previous at bat, Livo got Harper lunging for strike three on a slow breaking ball, but Harper got his revenge, staying back on a 79-MPH slider that didn’t move as much as the veteran would have liked.
Saturday: The Nats banged out 12 hits against five Braves pitchers, beating Atlanta 8-4, making a winner of Stephen Strasburg, who wasn’t particularly sharp, walking four and allowing six hits in five innings.
But Strasburg was still the pitcher of record in the top of the sixth when the Nats broke a 4-4 tie, as Chad Tracy’s one-out double scored Ian Desmond, who’d doubled earlier, and Rick Ankiel tripled to center, plating pinch-runner Edwin Jackson. Jackson replaced Tracy, who strained his groin on his RBI base hit, and was scheduled to have an MRI to determine the severity of the injury.
Danny Espinosa went 2-for-5 with three RBIs out of the leadoff spot, with a double and his eighth home run of the season. Bryce Harper hit his third homer of the season in the eighth inning of Jonny Venters.
Tom Gorzelanny was stellar in relief of Strasburg (W, 5-1, 2.64). Gorzelanny pitched three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out four. Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for his third save of the season.
Friday: The Nats scored four times in the first off veteran Tim Hudson and added three more in the seventh, defeating the Braves 7-4. The firepower made a winner of Chien-Ming Wang in his first game off the disabled list, as he relieved Ross Detwiler in the fifth inning and threw three innings, allowing three hits, one of which was Jason Heyward’s sixth home run of the season. Wang did not walk or strike out a batter.
Detwiler was shaky, allowing three earned runs on five hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings, striking out five. After the game, Davey Johnson announced Wang would go into the starting rotation and Detwiler would pitch out of the pen for now.
On offense, Ian Desmond knocked in two in the first with a two-out single and Rick Ankiel tripled later in the frame to knock in two more. The big blow for the Nats was Ryan Zimmerman’s bases loaded double in the seventh which busted the game open for the visiting Nationals.