Harper-less Nationals beat up on Cubs

Harper-less Nationals beat up on Cubs
May 11, 2013, 12:00 am
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Short-handed Nationals get 5th straight win

Considering how much the Nationals as a whole were struggling to score runs not that long ago, the lack of both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth from their lineup Friday night could easily have spelled disaster.

These days, though, the Nationals are getting contributions from just about every slot in their lineup, more than enough to overcome the losses of a couple of key starters.

So it was Friday that they pulled off a rather easy, 7-3 victory over the Cubs thanks not to the contributions of Harper or Werth, but of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki, who combined to drive in all of the Nats' runs during the club's fifth straight win.

"It's big when your 3-hole hitter's out of there and you score a bunch of runs," manager Davey Johnson said. "That's big."

With Harper sidelined by an ingrown toenail that had to be surgically removed and Werth headed to the disabled list with a minor hamstring strain, the Nationals turned to the bottom half of their batting order to produce at the plate. They wound up with even more production than they needed, getting a homer, a double and three RBI out of Desmond and a pair of two-run doubles out of Espinosa and Suzuki.

Perhaps some among the impressive crowd of 37,191 on a night when the Capitals were hosting Game 5 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series a couple miles away were surprised by this development, but nobody inside the home clubhouse seemed taken aback.

"I mean, last year, we were missing guys throughout the whole season pretty much," Desmond said. "We just found a way. It's about hitting your stride and keep on moving forward. We're starting to play better baseball."

Indeed they are. The Nationals aren't only scoring more runs, they're pitching better and playing noticeably better defense during this recent hot stretch (six wins in seven games).

The improved glovework was particularly evident Friday night, with Suzuki teaming up with Roger Bernadina to throw out a runner at the plate, Espinosa making a nifty play on a grounder to second and Denard Span going way back in center field to make a spectacular catch in the fifth. Even Ryan Zimmerman, much maligned for his recent throwing woes, looked appreciably better on several routine plays in this game.

"I thought the defense was unbelievable tonight," said Ross Detwiler, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of it all. "They were leaving their feet, left and right. Just played well all around."

Detwiler was hardly in top form, surrendering a staggering six doubles over 6 2/3 innings — four of them to leadoff hitters — yet keeping the damage to only two runs. He was rewarded with his second win of the season, a low total not at all befitting a pitcher who sports a 2.53 ERA.

"I think all of [the doubles] were early in the innings, too," he said. "So you try to keep that runner at third or at second, or wherever he is."

Detwiler was able to go right after hitters thanks to the early lead his teammates supplied. Suzuki got things started with a two-run, opposite-field double in the bottom of the second. Desmond added a two-run homer in the fourth and an RBI double one inning later (finishing 3-for-4 and a triple shy of the cycle). And Espinosa put the finishing touches on the offensive explosion with his own two-run double in the bottom of the fifth, knocking Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija from the game.

The rest of the evening was fairly academic, with Detwiler navigating his way into the seventh before handing it over to Craig Stammen, who recorded the final seven outs.

Just like that, the Nationals finished off their fifth straight victory, improved to 20-15 and left the park with confidence soaring.

"We never put any limitations on ourselves," Suzuki said. "We obviously feel we're swinging the bats better. Timely hitting obviously helps, but for the most part everybody feels like they're going in the right direction."

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