Nats keep on rolling with another win
These days just about everything is going the Nationals’ way.
Returning home for a ten game homestand, the Nats pulled Stephen Strasburg from his start in a surprise move because of forearm soreness. In came Ross Ohlendorf who had been a disaster since July, and off he went with a 31-pitch inning that saw an early Phillies run come across.
But Ohlendorf quickly settled in and gave the Nats four more innings of scoreless ball, his teammates followed suit with early offense and Washington won 6-1 to take their seventh straight.
That’s nine wins in their last ten games and puts them a season-high nine games over .500. Oh, and the Cincinnati Reds also happened to lose.
The Nationals are now 4 ½ games out of the final NL Wild Card spot with 15 games remaining in the regular season, the closest they’ve been since July 11.
“We’ve still got a chance,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “We just have to keep going out there and playing and see what happens. That’s all we can do right now, win each game that we can, and somehow sneak in.”
Zimmerman scored three of the Nats’ six runs on Friday, including a solo home run to lead off the third inning. He belted a line drive into the corner of the visitors bullpen off Kyle Kendrick, his seventh homer in his last seven days. The last Washington baseball player to accomplish that feat was Frank Howard in 1968.
Wilson Ramos also deposited one in the bullpen in left field, his off the scoreboard on the back wall. The Nats as a team have now homered in seven straight games and ten of their last 11.
The other four Nats runs came on infield groundballs. Two by Ian Desmond and one by Ramos.
Desmond brought home the first run in the first inning by beating out a slow grounder to third with two outs, scoring Zimmerman. He knocked Zimmerman home again in the fifth with a high bouncing ball with the bases loaded.
Ramos’ RBI grounder was even more fortunate for the Nationals. Also with the bases loaded in the fifth, Ramos smoked a ball off the foot of pitcher Luis Garcia that popped up in the air about 15 or 20 feet. It found enough airtime to bring home two runs and give the Nats their final total of six.
“We’re getting a few breaks now,” Davey Johnson said. “The ball hit by Ramos went off the pitcher’s foot, went up about three stories high. Nobody knew where it was.”
The close plays favoring the Nationals weren’t limited to their time at the plate. Ohlendorf also benefited from two spectacular outfield assists by Bryce Harper.
In the fifth inning Harper slid to field a Freddy Galvis’ hit ball in the left field corner. He got up and quickly fired to second, notching the out on a Steve Lombardozzi tag. Galvis took his foot off the bag and was tagged on his hand after the slide.
Then one inning later Harper gunned out Carlos Ruiz at second. Ruiz lobbed a would-be double over Harper’s head and off the wall, creating a carom that put the ball directly into Harper’s glove off. He turned and threw from the warning track, this time giving Lombardozzi plenty of time to make a clean tag.
Everyone knows Harper has a great arm, but learning to make the right throws at the right time shows his development as an outfielder.
“Tonight those plays were a huge part of that game,” Zimmerman said. “He’s worked hard on that. He hasn’t played outfield for that long. People forget that he caught a lot growing up and that outfield was a relatively new thing a couple years ago.”
“We're getting to see him earn some stripes live,” Desmond said. “He's developing into quite the ballplayer.”
Harper has always loved throwing players out, dating back to his days as a catcher. Now he takes pride in learning the craft of left field and credits his coaching staff for the improvement.
“I’m just trying to get better,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of support from Tony Tarasco and him helping me out. Trying to get my angles right and trying be as accurate as I can, try to show off my arm a little bit when I can.”
The Reds lost to the Brewers for the seventh time in their last ten games and continue their series in Milwaukee on Saturday. Meanwhile the Nationals go toe-to-toe with the always dangerous Cole Hamels. They haven’t accomplished anything yet, but the possibility of closing the wild card gap is coming more and more into focus.