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Nats have to grind out series-sweeping victory

Jul 2, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

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The Nationals rattled off four straight wins mostly by pounding opposing pitchers to a pulp and then watching their own pitching staff mow through lineups. In order to pull off their fifth straight victory, they had to get dirty and grind for a change.

Down three runs early to the Rockies on a sweltering Wednesday night in the District, with starter Doug Fister battling some uncharacteristic command issues, the Nationals turned to some stellar defense and a couple of clutch home runs to eke out a 4-3 win that boosted the spirits of their workmanlike starter.

“It’s a lift that those guys are back there busting their butts and playing the game the way they know how,” Fister said. “The way they’re sacrificing for me is something that I’m truly grateful. Those guys are going out there, day-in and day-out, whether it’s hot, cold, rain or snow, and those guys are playing a game that they love the right way.”

His full roster healthy for the first time since Opening Day, manager Matt Williams has been fielding lineups built with offensive punch in mind more than defensive wizardry. Could’ve fooled the Rockies, who were robbed of base hits perhaps as many as six times during this game.

There was Ian Desmond making an over-the-shoulder catch of a liner to shallow left field. There was Denard Span tracking down drives to the gaps in center field. There was Bryce Harper charging in hard to make a sliding catch in left field. And there was Ryan Zimmerman, looking very much like his old Gold Glove self at third base, with cat-like reflexes to snag a couple of hot shots, then on-target throws as the crowd of 28,943 held its collective breath.

“There were some great plays,” Williams said. “Denard made a couple of plays tonight, one on a ball over his head. Zim made a couple. It’s important for us to play good defense and support our pitcher. Keeps us in games.”

It certainly kept the Nationals in this one in spite of Fister’s off-night. The tall right-hander, usually a master at keeping the ball down in the zone and inducing groundballs, couldn’t command his sinker early on, leading to a bunch of flyball outs, line-drive hits and a towering, 3-run homer by Rockies backup catcher Michael McKenry.

“A constant battle all night,” Fister said. “The biggest thing was just making sure the ball got down in the zone. I left a few balls over the plate and they made me pay for them. I really had to struggle to keep that going after that.”

Laborious outing or not, Fister still departed having allowed only those three early runs over seven innings, striking out five without walking a batter. That he was able to salvage a quality start despite his struggles wasn’t lost on teammates.

“That’s what I think Mike [Rizzo[ brought him here for,” Desmond said. “He wasn’t sharp early, he identified it, made the adjustment and continued to hold them to that three runs and gave us a chance to win the ballgame. Can’t give him enough credit for how fast he works and pitching in the strike zone. That’s something that our other starters are feeding off.”

Keeping the deficit at three runs, Fister bought time for the Nationals’ lineup to figure out Rockies left-hander Tyler Matzek. It happened in the bottom of the fourth, when Jayson Werth blasted a 2-run homer, then when Harper hustled his way to a double, took third on a wild pitch and then scored on Desmond’s RBI single.

All that set the stage for Desmond to deliver the biggest blow of the night. Moments after Matzek was pulled with one out in the seventh, he scorched right-hander Matt Belisle’s 0-1 pitch to deep right-center. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, then appeared to ricochet off a metal railing beyond the fence before bouncing back to the field. Desmond was pretty sure he had homered, but with no definitive sign from umpire Joe West, he just kept running til he reached third base.

“The way it bounced back hard like that, I kind of assumed that it was over,” he said. “And the way that [center fielder Drew] Stubbs kind of just didn’t go after it made it a little bit easier. But at that point I was like: ‘I’m gonna get the triple.’ Yeah, I thought it was gone, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”

It took a delay of 3 minutes, 42 seconds for umpires at MLB headquarters in New York to confirm what most in the ballpark were sure was true: The ball indeed bounced off the metal rail, making it a home run. Desmond trotted the final 90 feet and exchanged high-fives, though not with the amount of enthusiasm that would typically accompany a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the seventh.

“Not nearly as awkward as Mike Morse having to re-run the bases [in Sept. 2012],” Desmond said. “But, yeah, that was a little bit long. But they got it right. Tip your cap for that.”

And tip your cap to the Nationals bullpen, which finished off the 1-run victory. Tyler Clippard struck out Troy Tulowitzki on a nasty split-finger fastball to end the eighth, and Rafael Soriano stranded the tying runner on third in the ninth to secure his team’s fifth straight win.

With nine wins in their last 12 games, the Nationals (46-38) have improved to a season-best eight games over the .500 mark.

“The last two, two-and-a-half weeks, we’ve been playing the baseball we expected to play,” Clippard said. “We’ve been pitching, timely hitting, playing defense. This is who we are. We’re pretty happy with how things are going right now.”

  1. NatsLady - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    Williams opted to take Zimmerman out of the one-run ballgame.

    “It’s the right move,” Zimmerman said. “I’m still getting used to playing third base again…Anthony’s played well at third base and Danny is one of the best if not the best defensive second basemen in the game. So if we’re up late in the game, I have no problem if it gives us the best chance to win.”

    Even if it means losing a potentially crucial at-bat late in the game?

    “With our bullpen, we expect to hold a lead after the seventh inning, whether it’s one run or five runs,” Zimmerman said. “You’ve got to put your best defensive players in. And right now, that’s Anthony and Danny.”

    • veejh - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:34 AM

      He is the ultimate team player, no doubt. Harper, take notes.

      • raleighnat - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:07 AM

        Wow what a class act. That’s leadership.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:00 AM

        I like it and this has turned around my opinion on Ryan that he has stepped up as a leader and TEAM guy.

        At some point in Ryan’s career he came around to the truth. He wasn’t singing this tune in April. I think it happened on his DL stint or maybe he saw that awful piece MLB Network did on him which made him out to be a rag arm. Whatever it is, he knows his arm is a liability. He went back to 3rd and has showed his glove is still gold even though is arm is old.

      • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:06 AM

        …has showed his glove is still gold even though is arm is old.

        +1 for poetry.

        A New York sports writer wrote about Johnny Mize in the twilight of his career, “Your arm is gone, your legs likewise, but not your eyes, Mize, not your eyes.”

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:43 AM

        Candide, poetic indeed. Ryan Zimmerman was my “guy” for a long time going back to the Draft and quick signing but I have to say I soured on him quite a bit with what I felt was a long line of not being honest about his many injuries. I wrote about the injuries and what I knew and wrote about was a lot of dishonest answers about his own health particularly on the abdominal injury. Yes, many players lie about their health but I expected more from Ryan to put “team” first. Then I felt he created his own PR campaign to “guilt” the Nats into a long-term deal and I have mixed feelings on it. Again, many players and agents have done the same but I felt that the Nats were overpaying for damaged goods as you have to keep in mind that his contract includes that large personal services contract so essentially his contract is far more expensive than what’s on the surface.

        His recent comments and actions are a good step in moving forward in my view and my hope is that his eventual move to being the full-time 1st baseman can be a position he thrives in.

      • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:47 AM

        Cunegonde informed me last night that, “I really love Ryan,” largely because of his “team first” attitude.

        Fortunately for me, she’s old enough to be his mother.

      • natsfan1a - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:05 AM

        You can tell her that the line starts behind me. It might be kinda long, seeing as how it started in late 2005. 🙂

        Candide – Jul 3, 2014 at 9:47 AM

        Cunegonde informed me last night that, “I really love Ryan,” largely because of his “team first” attitude.

        Fortunately for me, she’s old enough to be his mother.

  2. chazzmichaelmichaelzz - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:27 AM

    For those who want to relive the hilarity of Morse HR in 2012 with running the bases in reverse and fake HR swing:


    • Doc - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:25 AM


  3. ArVAFan - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:34 AM

    Don’t know if you could hear it on the radio, but once they showed the replay of Ian’s HR on the video board, the Sec. 313 N-A-T-S crowd did the scoring chant right away (and then again when it was official). The video guy was playing with the video, showing the ball as if it were bouncing repeatedly off the railing. Inside the park, we were darn sure of the HR.

    No idea why the review took so long–we assumed there was a back-up in NY and the umpires were listening to “Please hold on. Your call is important to us. Don’t hang up, calls are answered in the order in which they are received. This call may be recorded for quality assurance.” while we’re all sitting there yelling “HOME RUN” and making the HR signal.

    • Steady Eddie - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:54 AM

      I imagine they were looking up the Nats Park ground rules for dingers. Remember that play (last season?) where a Nat hit what looked like a homer in Philly but wasn’t because the field side of the outfield railings was in play?

      Odd the variations of those rules in different parks.

  4. Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:07 AM

    New drinking game for the 2014 season: Any time a blogger, announcer, player, coach, or manager uses any variation of the word, “grind,” drink.

    You’ll be flat on your back by the seventh-inning stretch.

    • adcwonk - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:55 AM

      With pre-game interviews and such, You’d be flat out before the first pitch!

    • 6ID20 - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:56 AM

      That’s what’s wrong with the Phillies. They don’t have grinders up there, they have hoagies.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:31 AM

        And yet so many of their fans seem so very drunk.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:44 AM

        Good one 6ID20

  5. rabbit433 - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    I’d rather wait three minutes of an IR call than take 10 minutes while players and managers argued with umpires!

  6. Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Third day, third column from a WaPo sports columnist bashing Bryce.

    Get some new material, guys.

    Isn’t there some stupid, cliched thing you could be saying about the Redskins?

    • Joe Seamhead - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      Jason Reid is a bad football writer, but when it comes to baseball the Post should not let him write anything. He is the worst I have seen on anything baseball. He’s basically a muckraker.

      • 6ID20 - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:00 AM

        People actually read Mike Wise and Jason Reid? I mean, without laughing?

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:26 AM

        He’s basically a muckraker.

        And a lazy muckraker, to boot.

        I saw the headline and thought “not again” but read the first few grafs just to see if it was anything new. It wasn’t.

        With a little more coffee first, I might not have bothered.

        He really should be ashamed.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:51 AM

        You know, I actually like Mike Wise. I disagreed with something he wrote once, and emailed him and got a thoughtful reply.

        Reid isn’t very good.

      • Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        +1 Seamhead.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      I saw a video replay of Matt’s discussion of Harper at his presser, and Matt just knocked it out of the park without so much as taking a deep breath. Really proud of how he handled it, but not surprised, a bit.

      The press jumps all over anything having to do with Harper, but Matt has the kid’s back.

  7. Another_Sam - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    “Golly gee whiz, Another_Sam. You sure nailed it when you called RZ at third with defensive replacements in close games when MW went to the bullpen. You really know your baseball. I’ll never doubt you again.”

    • Joe Seamhead - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:54 AM


  8. tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    So the Nationals now lead the NL in run differential, with +50, a great indicator of a quality team. Amazingly Oakland has two and half times that with +125, and even more amazing is Seattle is +70, yes Seattle.

    • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Mariners had a pretty good pitcher a couple of years ago, who they traded to the Tigers for one guy who’s no longer with the organization, one who’s languishing in AA, and a third who’s a middle-of-the-road one-inning lefty reliever.

      I wonder if the Mariners would like to have Doug Fister back.

      And the Tigers traded him to the Nats for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol, and Robbie Ray.

      You wonder why teams seem willing to sell Fister at fire-sale prices. Not that, as a Nats fan, I’m complaining, mind you…

      • Another Tyler - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:09 PM

        As a Seattle-are Nats fan (transplant from VA), I like following the Mariners. When I listen to how people talk about them, I get serious Nats-vibes. Good team built around great pitching, burned by injuries, about to heat up. I’m going to go see at least one Nats game when they come to town in August, and am (in a strictly unrealistic fan capacity) hoping that they’ll meet again (much) later in the season…

  9. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Seeing as we have an off day before the Cubs games, this is on topic, sorta: If you have the Facebook, check out the group “EPSTINK IS TERRIBLE.” Funny, occasionally hilarious parodies of the Chicawguh version of the universal Legion of Doom-ies.

    Andrew Cieslak
    ‎Epstink Is Terrible Jun 5 · Chicago, IL

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:28 AM

      Funny stuff!

      Our LoD needs to step up their game. The one millionth iteration of “[Player X] sucks. I am giving up on this team” just doesn’t cut it.

  10. tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    As the Cubs roll into town, I’m becoming a huge believer in Anthony Rizzo, but the trade for him is very interesting.

    Not very often that young stud pitcher gets traded for young stud hitter, but that is exactly what happen here.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      Do you remember Rizzo’s callup in 2011? He was called up in June 2011 to face the Nats. He looked like Babe Ruth and unfortunately it was against the Nats. It was a 4 game series and it took the Nats 3 games to figure him out. Then Rizzo went ice cold 3 games later and fell below Mendoza and never climbed back above the Mendoza line. He was sent down to the Minors and got back on track and was called back up but never really hit.

      When the Padres traded him they thought they were giving away a flawed player and the Cubs were trashed for making that trade, but Cashner was a troubled reliever who had his own set of issues. Looks like both players have helped their respective teams.

      • tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:50 AM

        Ghost, I do remember that and you what it reminded me of??? Believe or not, it reminded me a lot of when the Giants first called up Matt Williams. I’m not kidding, it really did. He just wasn’t ready yet and he went back to the minors (maybe a few times) and then finally got it.

        When the Pardes gave up on Rizzo, I was shocked. At the time I didn’t know how good a pitcher they got.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:46 AM

        Win win on that one.

      • tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        My original post was also just pointing out that a prospect for prospect trades are very rare, especially when both guys succeed. Most are vet for prospect, or minor leaguer for minor league, where one guy ends up turning into a very good player. This trade was an enigma that worked out.

    • 6ID20 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:07 AM

      Rizzo was Theo’s guy when he was with the Red Sox. After Theo ended up with the Cubs and Rizzo was traded to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, it made sense that Theo would trade whatever Cubs prospect it would take to get his guy back.

    • natszee - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      Cancer survivor and a great kid. Comes from a great family (good friends with my extended family in FL).

  11. laddieblahblah - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    That was a really good win yesterday. Except for one bad inning by Fister, the staff and the defense held the hard hitting Rockies in check until the offense could eke out just enough runs for the win.

    Desi is out of his slump. That is bad news for the rest of the league.

    I will miss Tulo. Too bad we don’t get to see him very often. If I could start my own team, he would be the first guy on it. I haven’t even thought about no. 2, but he would be the no. 1 guy. The best all-around SS I have ever seen. He moves like a gymnast, but he is 6’3″ tall, strong as a bull, and drilled the ball 3 out of his 4 ABs.

  12. scnatsfan - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Hate this midweek day off. I will probably have to take the wife to dinner instead of camping out infront of the TV.

  13. Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    Fantastic night at the park last night despite the heat. Just a solid game all around. Some great defensive gems, and after the second, Fister stepped up, as did the back end of the best bullpen in baseball.

    I wanted to highlight the tying run, which was a classic Harper hustle run. Bloop double to left, he was blazing right out of the box and took the extra base easily when the LF misplayed the ball. Then goes to third on a WP. That play wasn’t all that difficult, but when you see it live, you realize the incredible baseball instincts Harper has. No hesitation in advancing when the opportunity arose. And then he scores easily on Desi’s sharp single. The guy creates runs. Fun to watch.

    • Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:07 AM


    • Eric - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      I was sitting in 111 row L and it was a perfect vantage point for Harp’s bloop double, Zim’s amazing dive/throw from his knees, and Desi ‘sdiving over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left.

      I must have been getting a beer during Harp’s diving catch.

      All around an excellent night at the yard. Always fun when they come from behind. Werth’s homer and Desi’s tying RBI single lit the place on fire!

    • David Proctor - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      Not sure if you noted it and not sure if Bob and FP mentioned it (I was stuck watching the Rockies broadcast) but Harper was getting so far down the line that the 3B had to play closer to the bag. Harper was looking like he was tempted to steal home. He was at least making the Rockies think he was thinking about it. The Rockies broadcast brought this up and the very next pitch, Desi hits a ball through the hole that perhaps the 3B gets to if Harper’s not playing games with them on 3B. He creates havoc.

      • Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:06 PM

        Great point DP. I’m not sure he was thinking about stealing home, but he got in their heads for sure. Having him roaming the basepaths is a huge advantage for the Nats.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:16 PM

      Not to mention, the pitch Desmond hit, he had no business even swinging at–a single worthy of Vladimir Guerrero!

  14. Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Last night on the broadcast, FP was talking about Werth working with hitting coach Schu to stand more upright. He went on to say that power hitters stand more upright and non-power hitters crouch, like Span. I tweeted him saying Bryce Harper crouches and he tweets back “Bryce Harper has only 1 home run.” Sounds like he is saying Harper is not a power hitter. I was shocked at that. Do I have it all wrong. What do the rest of you think? Is Bryce a power hitter or not?

    • Eric - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      I think he might be suggesting Harper’s batting stance doesn’t optimize his power.

      But, he seems to be ignoring the fact that Harper missed like 60 games and that Harper hit plenty of HRs using what I believe is essentially the same stance in ’12 and 13.

      • Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:34 AM

        Perhaps, but Harper has reached the third deck on some home runs. I don’t know how he could optimize his power any more than that.

    • 6ID20 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:30 AM

      He hasn’t been one this year. Limited sample size, of course, but he hasn’t.

      • Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        But the question is…Is Harper a power hitter or not? He has had used that crouched stance his whole professional career and has hit plenty of home runs in the past using that stance.

      • 6ID20 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        Right now he’s more of a muscle hitter than a power hitter. Will his crouch stance still work as his muscles decline with age? When he’s the age ALR is now, will he be able to hit as many homers as ALR does?





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