MORSE, ZIMMERMAN HOMER TO PACE NATS ATTACK
The Washington Nationals offense has struggled all season long to provide enough support for their pitching. Last night though the Nats put up six runs against Cincinnati Reds starter Mike Leake through five innings and held on to defeat the Reds 6-4, before 23,888 satisfied customers at Nats Park.
The win lifts the Nats record to 58-62, four games below .500 and just a half game behind the New York Mets for third place in the N.L. East.
Nats starter Chien-Ming Wang spotted the Reds two runs in the first, but the Nationals answered with three of their own in the bottom of the frame and never again trailed in the game, tacking on single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to give Wang some breathing room.
Michael Morse (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) and Ryan Zimmerman (2-for-4, 2 runs) both hit solo home runs to power the Nats. Morse's homer was a blast to right center field, and Zimmerman's was a bomb down the left field line that ended up three rows form hitting the concourse.
According to manager Davey Johnson after the game, Zimmerman called his shot in the dugout prior to the at bat.
"Actually, he called that in the dugout," Johnson said with a straight face. "None of us believed him. He said he was gonna hit a bomb. And he went up there and...I guess the guy was pitching him fastballs in early in the count, and he said 'when he comes in there I'm gonna hit it out of the ball park.' So it didn't surprise any of us. I asked him if he got all of it. He said no, it kind of jammed him."
Maybe the biggest hit of all for the Nats came in the first inning. The Nats scored one run off Morse's RBI double, then loaded the bases when Jayson Werth drew a one-out walk. Laynce Nix (.188/.266/.306 since July 1) struck out for the second out of the frame. But Ian Desmond laced a 1-0 pitch just past the shortstop to drive in two and give the Nats the lead they would never relinquish.
For his part, after surviving a rough first inning Wang went on to retire the next twelve batters and went into the sixth inning with a 6-2 lead. A double by Joey Votto, followed by two ground outs, pushed across the Reds third run. Johnson then let Wang hit for himself in the bottom of the frame and let him start the seventh inning, all while having Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard warming up.
Wang (W, 2-2, 4.22) had more trouble in the seventh, giving up a lead-off single to pinch-hitter Fred Lewis. One out later, Edgar Renteria doubled Lewis home. The hit end both Renteria and Wang's nights, as Renteria strained a groin muscle going into second base and had to be helped off.
"He got the ball up a little late," Johnson theorized in the post-game. "I was probably one hitter too [late], I let him go too long. I had Clipp ready for Renteria but..."
"[Wang] threw a lot of good pitches. Actually, he threw more breaking balls tonight. I was real pleased with is effort."
The late runs bloodied up Wang's final line a little. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on seven hits. He walked just one and did not strikeout a batter for the second consecutive game. His good sinker wasn't evident early but got better as the night went along, recording nine ground ball outs against four fly balls. He threw 78 pitches, 51 for strikes.
After the injury time out, Clippard came in and quietly retired the next two batters, getting Votto to pop up to second and striking out Brandon Phillips. Clippard allowed a two-out single in the eighth with no further damage, and Drew Storen was positively filthy in the ninth, striking out two before retiring shortstop Paul Janish on a sinking liner to left that Brian Bixler make a sliding grab on to end the game.
THE GOOD: Zimmerman and Morse both with homers and a pair of hits. Clippard and Storen combined for 2 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit, no walks and three strikeouts.
THE BAD: Laynce Nix. 0-for-3, stranded three runners.
THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa. 0-for-4, strikeout. Average down to .223.
THE STATS: Eight hits, one walk, six strikeouts. 2-for-8 w/RISP, four LOB, zero GIDP. E: Zimmerman (9), Desmond (18).
NEXT GAME: Wednesday against the Reds. Ross Detwiler (1-2, 3.20) faces Johnny Cueto (8-5, 1.94).
NATS NOTES: Manager Davey Johnson indicated twice after the game he could move Morse back to left field when rosters expand, both to give Morse more experience playing outfield and also to get a look at Chris Marrero at first base. "Ideally, when LaRoche comes back we'll have LaRoche at first and probably [Morse] in left field," Johnson said. "We got a guy down there [in the minors] that can play a little first base."