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Healthy lineup, quality at-bats, positive results

Aug 26, 2015, 12:34 AM EDT

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There was no shortage of tangible evidence Tuesday night what the Nationals’ lineup is capable of doing now that it is complete for the first time all season. Wilson Ramos’ 2-run homer in the bottom of the second. Yunel Escobar and Ian Desmond’s 2-out RBI doubles later. And, most notably, Ryan Zimmerman’s sixth-inning grand slam that blew the game wide open and ensured this 8-3 victory over the Padres.

There was less-tangible evidence of it, as well, though, in the form of several long, well-executed at-bats by a host of Nationals hitters. Some didn’t even result in a baserunner, but all helped contribute to the overall effort and certainly helped knock San Diego starter James Shields out in the sixth inning with his pitch count a whopping 121.

“Great at-bats,” manager Matt Williams said. “When our guys are seeing the baseball well, we get those at-bats. … It just extends innings for us. It ups the pitch-count for the opposing pitcher. It gives us opportunity. Good ‘grind’ at-bats tonight.”

That this came the same night the Nationals fielded a complete, healthy lineup for the first time all season may not have been coincidental. With Denard Span returning from a 7-week stint on the DL with a lower back injury, Williams was able to construct a lineup that simply looked more imposing on paper: Span, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon at the top; Bryce Harper, Escobar and Zimmerman in the middle; and Desmond and Ramos at the bottom.

Those last two had often been forced to hit cleanup and fifth earlier this summer, when the Nationals lineup was cobbled together every afternoon. Now they’re hitting seventh and eighth, still more than capable of coming up with big hits no matter their batting position.

“To have everyone back, and to see that, is nice,” Zimmerman said. “It doesn’t mean that we automatically score runs every game. We still have to go out there with a good approach and grind out at-bats. But it’s nice to have everyone.”

Especially when they can string together quality at-bats like they did Tuesday. Nationals batters managed to produce 18 plate appearances of at least five pitches, 12 of them coming vs. Shields in the first 5 2/3 innings.

As happy as Ramos was about his second-inning homer, he seemed more proud of his 10-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the fourth, even though it ended in a strikeout.

“That at-bat made me feel confident, because I fight all my at-bat,” said the catcher, now 5 for his last 10. “I don’t care about the strikeout. I just care about how good I feel at the plate right now.”

There was some controversy mixed in, during Harper’s sixth-inning at-bat, with one on and two out. He bounced a grounder to first, with the Padres’ Jedd Gyorko scooping up the ball and stepping on the bag for what he thought was the final out of the inning. Harper, though, reacted in pain, limping around the batter’s box, and the umpiring crew ruled it a foul ball off his right foot.

The only problem: No replay could definitively show the ball actually striking any part of Harper.

It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except San Diego reliever Mark Rzepczynski wound up walking Harper a couple pitches later. Then right-hander Bud Norris walked Escobar to load the bases, and then he served up Zimmerman’s grand slam on a 2-0 pitch, turning a 4-2 game into an 8-2 rout.

Harper played coy when asked about the foul ball ruling afterward.

“I’m just excited that Zim hit the homer,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Padres manager Pat Murphy was less coy, going on a tirade against the umpires the following inning after seeing a replay of Harper’s swing that got him ejected.

Whatever actually happened, the Nationals took advantage of the situation. And thus they won for the fifth time in seven games, posting their first 3-game winning streak since the All-Star break.

They may not have gained any ground after the seemingly unstoppable Mets won yet again in Philadelphia. But for the first time in a long time, they know they’ve got all their pieces in place, hoping it didn’t happen too late to make a run at the division title.

“This lineup we have right now, this is what we wanted all year long,” Harper said. “We’re just going to get better as we play. And over this last month-and-a-half, it’s going to be a lot of fun for us. Everyone’s excited to get going. If we play like this, I think we’ll be just fine.”

  1. Section 222 - Aug 26, 2015 at 1:08 AM

    New posted:

    Great game tonight. So much fun at the park. Things I liked:

    1. The crowd’s welcome for @ThisIsDSpan. Heartwarming.
    2. Desi batting 7th, Ramos 8th. That’s more like it.
    3. Bryce’s double almost off the end of the bat. He just reached out and knocked it off the wall.
    4. Desi’s opposite field poke for an RBI.
    5. Desi hustling that poke into a double. Matt Kemp is still a liability in the field, wherever you put him.
    6. Esco getting two sharp hits and a BB after being out for a few games. Does that guy ever slump?
    7. Desi’s all out dash trying to catch a foul pop. He didn’t get there, but effort was great to see.
    8. Stras’s rising fastball leading to 7 Ks in 6 innings. He really was impressive tonight. After the third inning, I said to my friend, “maybe he’ll have one of those nights where he gives up a few runs early and then settles down and retires 12 in a row or something.” Turned out to be 15. Not bad.
    9. Zim’s slam. Enough said.
    10. Several nicely turned DPs by Rendon.
    11. Treinen starting to walk to the dugout pretty much as soon as the ball was hit into one of those DPs.
    12. Watching my friend’s 7-year old daughter fill out her scorecard. That’s pretty much all she did with it but it was very cute.

    Those of us in Section 321 where I sat tonight had absolutely no idea what was going on with the long argument Murphy had with the umps. I was pretty sure he had already been tossed since no ump is going to let a manager rant that long and not run him. But none of us saw the actual ejection.

    I’ve since learned that he was upset about the call on Bryce’s “foul” ball. Honestly, I thought Bryce had grounded out to end the inning. Then when he went back to the plate, I figured he had hit the ball off his foot. But I sure didn’t notice that happening, And had no idea that it was controversial at the time.

    Oh, one other thing I liked:

    13. The President’s race. Very funny to have the two Gnome impersonators.

    • ArVAFan - Aug 26, 2015 at 7:13 AM

      You missed one:

      14. The weather was perfect. Really: that’s what my friend who keeps score wrote in the weather box in her book “perfect.”

      And you know what, it might just be perfect tonight, too. Think I’ll go check it out.

      • Section 222 - Aug 26, 2015 at 8:08 AM

        Sounds like a plan.

    • alexva6 - Aug 26, 2015 at 9:54 AM

      15. all eight runs scored after there were two outs

      • Section 222 - Aug 26, 2015 at 11:20 AM

        excellent addition. two outs, nobody on, for four of them I think.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 26, 2015 at 1:11 PM

        At least four of them after Harper grounded out to end the inning. 😉

      • alexva6 - Aug 26, 2015 at 1:29 PM

        I couldn’t tell if the home plate umpire yelled foul and Harper played along or whether he duped him into the call. either way it was quick thinking by Harper, his talent keeps showing itself in new ways.

  2. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 26, 2015 at 1:28 AM

    Agree, great game, even from the couch. Everybody did what they were supposed to do. Especially liked getting five outs from Treinen, saving everybody else in the BP.

  3. natsfan1a - Aug 26, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    Great game from my couch as well. Atta way, Nats. Atta way.

  4. jfmii - Aug 26, 2015 at 7:48 AM

    All right then, need 6 from Gio tonight

  5. Joe Seamhead - Aug 26, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    My soon to be eleven year old grandson was thrown a ball by Ramos. Pretty cool, but he then gave the ball to another, younger kid. Then a short time later the other kid’s father gave my grandson a plastic batting helmet filled with ice cream. Is this a great country, or what?

    • natsfan1a - Aug 26, 2015 at 8:36 AM


    • wearenationals - Aug 26, 2015 at 8:55 AM


  6. Candide - Aug 26, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Is this a great country, or what?

    I didn’t win the Powerball last night.

    But I woke up in America this morning. Which is pretty much the same thing.

    Great game last night. Highlight for us was when Zimm came to bat after going hitless a couple of times. Cunegonde said to me, “He’s not having a good night, is he?”

    Literally two seconds before his grand slam. I swear I’m not making this up.

    • knoxvillenat - Aug 26, 2015 at 9:44 AM


    • Candide - Aug 26, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      Note the Curly W bracelet she’s wearing. I’d never noticed it before.

      “Yeah, I was buying some stuff on Amazon and saw this and figured why not?”

      So I think she’s going to have to wear it every game from now on. Because obviously it’s the reason the Nats won.

  7. veejh - Aug 26, 2015 at 8:47 AM

    Lets do it again tonight





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.
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FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

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