The Nats offense reignited on Saturday following a game where Jordan Zimmermann pitched so well that the offense never even had to light up to earn the win. The Nats ran Reds starter Mike Leake from the game early en route to a 6-3 victory, a series win, and an opportunity for a four-game sweep in Sunday’s day game.
Dan Haren helped his own cause early on the offensive side of things. The Nats hitters took Leake into a number of deep counts in the first two innings. Both Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon walked in the second before Haren drove Desmond home with two outs on a flip of the bat that dropped over first baseman Joey Votto in right field giving the Nats an early 1-0 lead. Denard Span then hit a grounder right back through the middle, scoring Rendon and expanding the margin to 2-0.
The Nats bats wouldn’t let up in the third inning. Bryce Harper led off with a single on a first pitch curveball, and Jayson Werth moved him to second on an infield single. After an Adam LaRoche popout, Desmond drove in Harper. Then, Kurt Suzuki hit one toward Jack Hannahan at third who dove and made a nice stop, but he made a poor throw to second that sent the ball into right field scoring Werth on an error and giving the Nats a 4-0 lead and contributing to the end of Mike Leake’s start, who didn’t come back out in the fourth.
That didn’t matter to the Nats offense. Reds reliever Alfredo Simon didn’t start much better than Leake left things as Span singled to start things off, and Espinosa reached on a fielder’s choice avoiding a double play. Harper brought himself and Espinosa home with his ninth home run of the season, which crashed into the back of the Nats bullpen. The homer gave them a 6-1 lead. Later, in the sixth, Harper walked in his fourth plate appearance, helping him end today’s game with a remarkable 1.236 OPS.
The Reds started to get to get to Haren in the sixth with a leadoff home run by Shin-Soo Choo above the out of town scoreboard in right, and Zack Cozart singled. On a blast by Joey Votto to the Reds bullpen wall, Denard Span traveled at least 70-75 feet to make a leaping grab to rob Votto of at least a double. Haren got Phillips to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and Haren’s best start of the season.
The Nats bullpen certainly didn’t make it an easy final three innings. Zach Duke had some bad luck to start as he came on in relief of Haren. Jay Bruce tapped a slow grounder to Espinosa, who threw it over Adam LaRoche’s head and into the Nats dugout for his first error of the season. Duke further complicated things by walking Xavier Paul. He retired back-to-back hitters before being replaced by Tyler Clippard to face pinch hitter Todd Frazier.
Clippard didn’t make the inning easy on himself. He gave up a hit to Frazier through the left side of the infield, scoring Bruce, and making the score 6-3. He then walked Choo. Cozart then lined a ball to center, which was fading away from Span. That didn’t matter as he closed in on the ball with his impeccable acceleration to record the final out of a tense inning. Davey said he thought this catch was the more impressive of Span’s two great catches today saying, “I didn’t think he had a chance to catch that ball. He outran it.”
Drew Storen came in to pitch in the eighth, and he didn’t have the smoothest outing, either. After getting Votto to ground out to Desmond, drawing an expletive and thrown equipment from the Reds first baseman, Storen allowed back-to-back hits to Phillips and Bruce. On a hot shot, one-hopper to Ian Desmond, he, Espinosa, and LaRoche turned a flawless double play. Desmond had Phillips running in front of the play to make it more difficult, but it remarkably had no effect. The Nats averted another rough inning behind great defense.
Rafael Soriano decided he was going to lock down his seventh save of the season with some quick work in the ninth. He struck out Cesar Izturis, got Devin Mesoraco to line out hard to Desmond, and got Frazier to strike out to lock in the win for the Nats.
The Nats are 13-11 on the season now, and they’ll go for the four-game sweep on Sunday at 1:35 pm with LHP Ross Detwiler (1-1, 1.38 ERA) matching up against LHP Tony Cingrani (1-0, 2.25 ERA). It’s amazing how big a difference just a few days make. It took just three days for the panic to subside among the Nationals faithful.