Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4
May 17, 2012, 2:01 am
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Game in a nutshell: Gio Gonzalez was lights-out for seven innings, striking out 10 to take over the MLB lead in that department. But the bigger story might have been the sudden outburst of power from the Nationals' often-lackluster lineup. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady all homered, and LaRoche later added a clutch, three-run double to give the Nationals bullpen a nice cushion. Beleaguered closer Henry Rodriguez then finished it off in the ninth, earning his ninth save in 12 tries.
Hitting highlight: It seems like we write this every other night, but it bears repeating yet again: Where would the Nationals be right now without Adam LaRoche? The veteran first baseman delivered yet again, homering in the bottom of the sixth and then lacing a three-run double in the bottom of the seventh to break the game open. The 1,000th hit of LaRoche's career earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 25,942 and gave him 29 RBI for the season. That's tied with Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez for third in the National League.

Pitching highlight: The Nationals knew they were getting a good, young hurler in Gio Gonzalez, but not even GM Mike Rizzo could have expected the left-hander to be the best strikeout pitcher in baseball. With 10 Ks in seven innings against the Pirates, Gonzalez raised his season total to 60, one better than the Yankees' CC Sabathia for the major-league lead. If there was one thing to nitpick about Gio's start, though, it was the two walks he issued to light-hitting Yamaico Navarro and Rod Barajas. Both Pittsburgh batters came around to score after drawing their free passes, a good lesson for Gonzalez in the importance of keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Key stat: The only qualifying shortstop in the National League with a higher slugging percentage than Ian Desmond's .447 mark is the Cardinals' Rafael Furcal.

Up next: Jordan Zimmermann looks to even his record at 3-3 when he faces Pirates right-hander James McDonald in the finale of this abbreviated, two-game series. First pitch on Thursday is at 7:05 p.m.