May 8, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals dug themselves into an early hole with a bit of sloppy play (dropped throws to the plate, runners straying too far off base) and poor at-bats against left-hander Eric Stults. But the tide quickly turned after that, thanks to a long-awaited blast from an old friend … and then two more from a very familiar face.
Jayson Werth’s fourth-inning homer (his first of the season) got the Nationals going and ignited the rest of the lineup. Bryce Harper launched his fourth homer in seven at-bats to give the Nats the lead in the sixth, then Danny Espinosa added his own in the seventh for a big insurance run. Oh, and then Harper added another one for good measure, launching a 3-run shot to right in the eighth for his fifth homer in eight games, earning another curtain call. And then Espinosa did it again himself, sending his second homer in as many innings over the wall in left to turn this game into a rout.
Gio Gonzalez pitched exceptionally well, going seven innings before handing things over to the bullpen. Rookie Matt Grace delivered an important scoreless frame in the eighth, and Blake Treinen finished it off with a scoreless ninth, sending the Nationals to their eighth win in 10 games and getting them back to the .500 mark overall.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Werth’s first homer of the season deserves to be highlighted. So do Espinosa’s two left-handed homers. But who are we kidding, it’s all about Harper right now. Forty-eight hours after his 3-homer afternoon against the Marlins, he was back in full force against the Braves. He took Stults deep to left-center in the sixth and then greeted Williams Perez (making his MLB debut) with a towering, 3-run bomb to right that earned the 22-year-old his second curtain call in as many games. Harper now is tied with Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier for the NL lead with 10 homers while also leading MLB with 26 walks. That’s an impressive combo, a pair of league-leading stats typically reserved for only the game’s very best hitters. Harper is beginning to prove he belongs in that discussion.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It wasn’t perfect, but this was a really, really good start by Gonzalez. Yes, he allowed two early runs, but those were aided in part by Andrelton Simmons sticking his foot out of the batter’s box to get hit by a pitch and by Wilson Ramos dropping a 1-hop throw that would’ve beat Simmons to the plate two innings later. After that, Gonzalez was fantastic, retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced. He wound up issuing only one walk while striking out eight, and his pitch count of 103 was more than manageable.
KEY STAT: Over the last two seasons, Freddie Freeman owns a .294 batting average. Take out his 42-for-91 against the Nationals, though, and that batting average drops to .269.
UP NEXT: The series continues at 4:05 p.m. Saturday when Doug Fister (2-1, 2.61) faces Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.82). Be sure to get to the ballpark early for pregame ceremonies honoring former manager Frank Robinson.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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