Resurgent Nats keep it going, beat Phillies

Resurgent Nats keep it going, beat Phillies
June 5, 2014, 12:00 am
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals have been waiting for weeks to go on a sustained run, a stretch where they're firing on all cylinders, at the plate and on the mound. It may be too early to declare this the run they've been seeking, but they're certainly on the right track.

With yet another potent offensive attack that included contributions from up and down the lineup, and with yet another strong performance from their starting pitcher, the Nationals took down the Phillies to win for the fourth time in five games ... even if this one required a 1-hour, 48-minute rain delay in the seventh inning before it could be completed.

Everyone in the lineup but Jayson Werth reached base against Phillies veteran A.J. Burnett. The red-hot Denard Span had a pair of doubles and a run-scoring grounder. A resurgent Anthony Rendon homered for the second straight night and added a 2-run double later for good measure. Danny Espinosa delivered a clutch hit when his team needed it most. Even Stephen Strasburg produced his first RBI of the season, then later drew a walk and scored.

Strasburg was equally effective on the mound, holding the Phillies to two unearned runs in seven innings while striking out 11. He thus continued a recent stretch of dominance by the Nats rotation, which has allowed a total of only five earned runs over the last five games.

Put it all together, and the Nationals are back over .500 at 29-28, having moved to within 1 1/2 games of the Braves in the NL East. They're getting healthy, they're getting great pitching and they're scoring runs in bunches. And they might just be getting on the kind of sustained roll everyone has been waiting for this team to pull off.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: There were no shortage of big hits for the Nationals in this game, but probably the biggest came from Espinosa in the bottom of the fourth. With the game still scoreless, the bases loaded and one out, Espinosa stepped to the plate in a big spot. If ever a situation called for a shortened swing and a contact-first approach, this was it. Then again, a 2-run double off the top of the wall in right-center certainly sufficed as well. Hard to complain about the result there. Espinosa's big blast — it was perhaps a foot shy of a grand slam — gave the Nationals the lead for good, energized the crowd of 33,614 and continued this team's recent stretch of offensive dominance at the plate.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: There seems to be a perception out there that Strasburg has merely been good, not great so far this season. But then you look at the numbers. He now owns a 3.10 ERA in 13 overall starts, not to mention an MLB-high 101 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings. His 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate is his best since his rookie season in 2010. And over his last nine starts, Strasburg is now 4-2 with a 2.09 ERA. He was fantastic tonight, striking out 11 over seven innings, 10 of them on swing-and-misses. And get this: This was the fourth time in his career Strasburg has struck out at least 11 without walking one batter. Only 17 pitchers in MLB history have done it more times. His changeup was devastating. He mixed in curveballs when he needed to. His fastball command was sharp. And that much-discussed slider Strasburg added this spring? He hasn't used it in weeks, electing instead to go back to basics and use what got him here. That plan certainly has worked well.

DEFENSIVE LOWLIGHT: Ryan Zimmerman was bound to face a tough play in left field eventually, and it happened in the top of the fifth tonight. Reid Brignac lofted a deep drive to the base of the wall, and Zimmerman (making his second career start in the outfield) got twisted around and couldn't make the play. It was by no means an easy play, and certainly one that seasoned outfielders might not have made. The greater concern might actually have been Zimmerman's throw after he retrieved the ball. Even though Ian Desmond ventured well into shallow left field to receive the throw, Zimmerman short-hopped the shortstop. It had no bearing on that particular play, but eventually there's going to come a play when Zim needs to be able to make a stronger throw than that.

KEY STAT: Denard Span has raised his batting average 48 points from .236 to .284 in his last 14 games.

UP NEXT: The series concludes with a late-afternoon matinee (followed by a concert by Plain White T's) at Nationals Park. It's Doug Fister vs. Kyle Kendrick at 4:05 p.m.