THE RESULT: A win is a win. Despite two errors and several other defensive miscues, and the hitters going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, last night the Washington Nationals broke a seven-game losing streak to their personal nemesis Florida Marlins, 5-3 in 11 innings.
Adam LaRoche hit his first home run of the year with a man on in the top of the 11th, while four relievers combined for six shutout innings. The win raises the Nats record to 2-4 through the first two series of the young season.
LaRoche, a notoriously slow starter, came into his final at bat of the night just 3-for-23 with no extra base hits. But with Ryan Zimmerman on first base after a single off Marlins reliever Edward Mujica (L, 1-1), LaRoche finally saw a pitch he could handle, depositing in the stands to straight away right.
Sean Burnett then entered and finished the Marlins off, earning his second save of the season. Burnett's inning capped a remarkable performance by the bullpen. He, Todd Coffey (W, 1-0, 8.10), Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard combined to limit Florida to two hits over six innings. The four struck out eight and did not walk a batter. It was as dominating a job as you could ask for.
Particularly strong was Drew Storen. He struck out three in two innings and was downright filthy. He was bringing a 95 MPH fastball and late-breaking slider that was simply untouchable. Clippard also entered and escaped from a no-out, two-on situation to keep the game tied at a critical juncture.
Nats starter John Lannan looked like he wasn't going to be in this game very long, allowing the first three Marlins batters to reach base and giving up two runs before recording an out. But the lefty settled down and went five innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out four. It was not a great performance by any means, but he kept him team in the game when he did not have his best stuff.
The game was full of errors and defensive blunders from the Nats. Rookie catcher Wilson Ramos and left fielders Laynce Nix were both charged with errors, and Rick Ankiel butchered a play in center field, but on this night anyway the gaffes did not ultimately hurt the Nationals.
THE GOOD: The bullpen. Riggleman definitely has his 'pen laid out where Clippard, Storen and Burnett pitch when tied or leading, and the others when in deficit. They all did their jobs last night in spectacular fashion, but it's a fine line to walk, expecting your starter and the same three relief pitchers to all do their jobs to earn a win.
THE BAD: Danny Espinosa was caught stealing third with one out and tow on in the 10th inning. In an attempt to get an extra base with one out in the inning, Espinosa made a rookie mistake. He should have stayed put and given Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth two cracks to get him in. Often in baseball, patience is better than aggression.
THE UGLY: For all the emphasis on defense in the offseason, the Nationals lead the N.L. in errors through the first week of the season with eight in six games.
THE STATS: Eight hits, three walks. 1-for-7 with RISP, 4 LOB, 2 GIDP. E: Ramos (1), Nix (1).
NEXT GAME: Friday at 4:10 pm at New York Mets. Jordan Zimmermann (0-1, 3.00) v. R.A. Dickey (1-0, 0.00)