The pink bats were out and mothers of all kinds filled the stadium at Nationals Park today. Behind another brilliant start by pitcher Livan Hernandez, the Nationals took the rubber game in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Marlins. The win means that the Nationals will end their most recent homestand with a 4-2 record and they now have an 11-8 record at home this season.
Against the Marlins, Livo displayed the same skill that has led to a rebirth of sorts for him this season. He threw tons of junk, varied the speeds on his pitches, and never let the Marlins get too comfortable at the plate against him. Hernandez put up goose eggs through the first five innings and his only blemish was leaving a sinker hanging to Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez gave the misplaced pitch a new home in the RF bleacher. Livan walked only one batter, meaning that in the last four games, the Nationals' starting pitchers have pitched 26 innings and walked only 2. For the third time this season Hernandez exceeded 100 pitches, finishing with 110, and has now gone seven or more innings in all of his starts except for his most recent one versus the Braves. In addition to his efforts on the mound, he laid down two perfect bunts, bringing his total to 4 for the season, two shy of last year's Nationals sacrifice leader, Jordan Zimmerman.
The game was handed to the Washington bullpen in the eighth inning and Sean Burnett came into face Chris Coghlan. After letting Coghlan single to center, Burnett was replaced by the Nationals set-up man, Tyler Clippard, who was making his sixteenth appearance of the season. Clippard followed Burnett's lead and let up a bloop single to Wes Helms and then walked Hanley Ramirez. The next batter, Jorge Cantu, knocked in Coghlan with a sacrifice hit to Josh Willingham and the Nationals lost there one run lead. As badly as the first three batters went for Clippard, that is how well it went for the next two. In a battle against Dan Uggla, Clippard was able to get the strikeout on a slider that got foul tipped into the glove of Ivan Rodriguez. The next batter, John Baker, made poor contact with a Clippard changeup and grounded out to Adam Kennedy. Clippard had blown the lead the night before as well, but was picked up by the lineup in a comeback win. Today was a repeat of history.
With the game tied up in the bottom of the eighth, Josh Willingham was once again the hero when he hit the go ahead home run in the eighth inning off of Clay Hensley. Willingham was 1 for 2 on the day with two walks. The home run, Willingham's sixth of the season, gives him 6 RBIs for the week and 20 for the season, enough for the team lead. What has been even more impressive is his ability to come up with the big hit when needed. Willingham was also the player who redeemed Clippard the night before and the Marlins may be wishing they never traded Willingham (along with Scott Olsen) to the Nationals.
In the ninth, it was time for the league leader in saves to take the mound. Matt Capps once again pitched a clean inning, throwing only nine pitches in the process. He now has 13 saves on the season and has been one of the best free agent aquistions in the league this year. And with another win to his name, Clippard now joins league leaders Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jimenez with six. If only Ubaldo Jimenez was not dominating so much, the Nationals would have the league leaders in wins (Clippard), saves (Capps), and ERA (Hernandez), certainly an ironic thought for a team that had one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball last season.
Adam Dunn also had a big day. Using a pink bat in honor of Mother's Day and breast cancer awareness, Dunn went 3 for 4 with a double and a RBI. Dunn is starting to heat up after starting the season off slowly and is now hitting .250. Ian Desmond also had a multi-hit game, both of them infield singles, and has added a great deal of energy to a Nationals team that was stale during much of the 2009 season. The team was not without problems at the plate though, as they left eight runners on base and were only 1 for 8 with RISP. Ryan Zimmerman and Pudge Rodriguez both grounded into double plays, their fourth and eighth of the season, respectively.
The Nationals have been playing well as of late, but still have some problem areas to address. Jim Riggleman has been relying heavily on Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps, but is going to need to find someone else to shoulder some of the workload given to the pen. While chances have been given to many players, not one has been able to nail down the right field job, though Roger Bernadina was 2 for 4 today with a stolen base. The team heads off to New York for a series with the Mets (17-14) and a fight for second place in the National League East.