Nats hope for fireworks with Harper batting 2nd versus Cubs

Nats hope for fireworks with Harper batting 2nd versus Cubs
July 4, 2014, 10:45 am
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(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

This July 4 represents the first for Matt Williams with the Nationals. To honor the nation's 238th birthday, the manager decided to slot Bryce Harper second in Washington's lineup against the Chicago Cubs.

Fine, that's not the reason why Harper swapped spots with Anthony Rendon.  It's a lefty-righty thing and it's about trying to score runs against Cubs right-handed starter Jason Hammel.

The left-handed hitting Harper batted sixth in all three games since returning from the disabled list, going 3 for 11 against the Rockies. Colorado started a lefty in all three games.

"It's a question of trying to create a little bit with Bryce at the top of the lineup, especially against a righty." Williams said pregame. "We faced three lefties the last three games so I wanted to give him some opportunity certainly to drive runs in. The same holds true for Anthony in that regard.

"Bryce at the top of the lineup against a right-handed pitcher, he can create some stuff."

[MORE: Game 85: Cubs at Nats]

Other then the Harper-Rendon batting swap, Washington starters in the field remain the same. The Nationals outscored Colorado 18-7 in the three-game sweep and currently have a season-high five game winning streak.

So, Matt, any thoughts about not messing with a good thing?

"I think every game presents its own challenges," Williams continued. "It's new. It doesn't matter what's happened the last three good, bad or indifferent."

It's bad nothing but bad for the Nationals against Hammel (7-5, 2.98). The ex-Oriole has won six straight starts against Washington and is 7-0 with a 3.12 ERA in nine starts overall. Last Friday he gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings in Chicago's 7-2 win over the Nationals.

"These guys have really good starting pitching," Williams said of the Cubs. "We're just trying create an opportunity. We could have (kept the same lineup), but I wanted to try and create some pressure there."

*Interesting historical note from Stats Inc.: Friday's starters Tanner Roark and Hammel have identical records and ERA. This is the first time two starters with identical records and ERAs with at least 15 starts have faced each other since Aug. 15, 1974, when Jim Kaat started for the White Sox against Baltimore's Mike Cuellar. Both pitchers were 13-9 with a 3.54 ERA.