Jun 5, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: His lineup mired in a slump approaching two weeks, Matt Williams decided to try something different on Friday. Struggling Ryan Zimmerman was moved up to the No. 2 spot. Bryce Harper took over No. 3 duties, with fresh-off-the-DL Anthony Rendon entrusted with the cleanup spot. Whether those changes made a difference is debatable, but the end result was not. For the first time in a while, the Nationals looked like a potent offensive team.
Danny Espinosa provided the biggest blow, a 3-run homer in the bottom of the second that outproduced the Nationals’ entire offensive output from the previous 24 innings. Michael Taylor and Denard Span provided key RBI in the fourth. And then the Nats added some big insurance runs late thanks to RBI doubles from Wilson Ramos and Dan Uggla.
Those extra run became helpful after Tanner Roark faded in the top of the sixth, serving up a pair of homers that turned a 5-1 lead into a 5-4 lead. The Nats bullpen clamped down after that, though, with Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and Blake Treinen combining to finish off the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and set the stage for Drew Storen to notch his league-leading 18th save in 19 tries (though not until he had allowed a run and brought the tying runner to the plate).
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Funny how this game works sometimes. Espinosa appeared headed to the bench again after Rendon came off the DL on Thursday. But when Yunel Escobar injured his right wrist in the first inning, Espinosa found himself back in the game and in the lineup Friday night. And wouldn’t you know he made the most of the opportunity, launching a 3-run homer in the bottom of the second. That shot sailed over the left-field bullpen, a monstrous homer that was Espinosa’s seventh of the season. He later added a double down the left-field line to add to a big night at the plate.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Has time in the bullpen actually made Roark a harder-throwing, better starter? It has certainly appeared that way at times during the right-hander’s three starts so far in 2015. Roark used to throw 92-93 mph. Suddenly he’s throwing 95-96 mph, even when starting, as was the case Friday night. He got Kris Bryant looking at a 96 mph fastball that also tailed considerably back over the plate like a 2-seamer. He cruised for five innings, allowing one run while striking out five. Roark did hit a wall in the sixth, though, serving up another homer to Rizzo and then one to Miguel Montero before getting pulled. He’s probably still working his arm up to the point where he’s just as strong throwing 90-plus pitches as he used to be, but that should come over time.
KEY STAT: Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa have accounted for 45 percent of the Nats’ home runs this season (25 of 56).
UP NEXT: Note the early, 12:05 p.m. start time Saturday (done to accommodate the Nats’ annual charity gala later that evening). It’ll be Joe Ross making his MLB debut, called up from Class AA Harrisburg, facing right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 2.82).
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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