GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On the heels of a tough loss, who do the Nationals give the ball to? Doug Fister. The formula has worked all season, and it worked again tonight.
Fister was dominant yet again, shutting out the Mets into the eighth inning without so much as breaking a sweat before getting charged with an unearned run. In the process, he improved to 7-2 this season when pitching after a Nationals loss (11-3 overall). The right-hander was aided by some stellar defense behind him and by an opportunistic Nats lineup that produced a couple of big blasts for a change.
Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa each homered off Jonathon Niese, staking Fister to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and then a 6-0 lead in the sixth. LaRoche added another homer in the eighth, continuing his recent surge at the plate. Newcomer Matt Thornton showed off his 97 mph fastball out of the bullpen in relief of Fister.
Put it all together, and you've got a convincing victory by the Nationals, who finally took advantage of a Braves loss to gain ground in the NL East. They now lead Atlanta by 4 games and thus cannot emerge from this weekend's series at Turner Field in anything other than first place.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Amazing what a couple of big bombs with men on base can do for a lineup that has struggled to score runs in bunches. The Nationals got exactly what they needed tonight, thanks to big home runs by both LaRoche and Espinosa. LaRoche sent one flying off the facade of the second deck in right-center in the bottom of the first, only his second homer off a left-hander this season. Espinosa, meanwhile, has been killing lefties when given the chance to face them all year. So when he stepped up to face Niese with two on in the bottom of the sixth, he seized the moment. Espinosa blasted a 3-run shot over the left-field wall, giving the Nationals the cushion they needed to put this game away.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Fister has become so good, he's actually kind of boring. The right-hander was completely workmanlike tonight, scattering six singles over his 7 1/3 innings. He didn't walk a batter. He struck out seven. He worked fast. He threw strikes. He got good defense behind him. And now his season totals are looking mighty impressive: 11-3 with a 2.49 ERA, 13 walks and 66 strikeouts over 104 2/3 innings. If not for the lat strain that landed him on the DL until early May, he'd be having a Cy Young-caliber season.
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STREAK WATCH: Once again, Denard Span didn't make us wait long. He singled to left in the bottom of the third, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 32. He also has now recorded a hit in 10 straight games.
KEY STAT: Espinosa, against left-handers this season, is now hitting .310 with a .383 on-base percentage, .524 slugging percentage and .907 OPS.
UP NEXT: The series concludes with a 12:35 p.m. Thursday matinee. Jordan Zimmermann faces NL Rookie of the Year candidate Jacob deGrom.