Nationals finally take advantage of their chances

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Matt Williams only wanted his Nationals to keep giving themselves opportunities to drive in runs, insisting more opportunities would eventually lead to more runs. Little could the rookie manager have realized how dramatically that would prove true only 24 hours after one of the most-frustrating offensive performances in club history.

The Nationals torched the Padres for 11 runs on 17 hits Friday, cruising to an 11-1 victory just one night after they went a franchise-worst 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

“We just keep getting guys out there and see if we can get them in,” Williams said. “Those opportunities are key, though.”

The Nationals gave themselves plenty of opportunities again Friday night. Actually, they gave themselves one more in the second game of this series than they did in the first. This time, they went 7-for-17 with runners in scoring position, including 5 for their first 7, storming out to a comfortable early lead and never looking back.

“I told you yesterday: That’s coming,” said catcher Jose Lobaton, who delivered three hits of his own to help the cause. “I know we’ve got a really good team. As soon as I got traded, I knew that this team can do better and better. Today was a day that everybody did it good. … And hopefully we can continue to do the same, because I know this team can do more. I think we can score more than 10 runs every game.”

The hits came early and often off Padres left-hander Robbie Erlin. Ian Desmond started things off with a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the first, with Bryce Harper adding a run-scoring infield single moments later.

Harper delivered the biggest hit two innings later, drilling a triple off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center to clear the bases and give himself a career-best four RBI. It was the previously struggling 21-year-old’s third consecutive hit dating back to the end of Thursday night’s game, and though he jammed his left thumb sliding into third base at the end of the play - he left the game early but doesn’t believe the injury is serious - Harper’s big hit was further evidence of him getting his swing together at last.

“He looks good,” Williams said. “Tonight he laid off a couple of tough breaking balls down and got himself into a good hitter’s count and delivered for us. He’s looked good the last couple of days, for sure.”

The beneficiary of all the early runs was Stephen Strasburg, who took the lead and ran with it. The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings, scattering seven hits and two walks while striking out 11 and running his pitch count up to a season-high 109.

“It’s always great to go out there in the second with the lead already,” said Strasburg, the victim of poor run support so many times last season. “It’s not always going to be the case. You have to not look at the scoreboard and just keep pitching.”

Strasburg kept pitching, and the Nationals kept hitting. They wound up with back-to-back games of at least 16 hits for the first time since the franchise arrived in D.C.

And since they scored so many more runs this time, any bad vibes from Thursday’s frustrating loss were quickly discarded.

“I don’t think anybody really cared,” Harper said. “It’s just part of the game. It happens like that. Some nights you leave guys on base and some nights you go out there and put runs on the board. Tonight we came in and swung it well and put guys on the board. See what happens.”

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