The game story from last night’s 5-3 Nationals win focuses on the play stuck with anyone who watched it, the line drive Ian Desmond hit off Juan Nicasio’s head. It was a horrific moment, but one the Nationals believed is part of the bargain of being a major leaguer. They knew it might be them some night, laying flat out on the field. Pushing that thought out of their mind is an overlooked piece of their ability to play baseball for a living.
That’s all covered in the story, at the expense of what turned out to be an interesting game underneath the terrible backdrop. The key points:
Ian Desmond had a big night. Before the game, Manager Davey Johnson watched Ian Desmond take batting practice and urged him to move closer to the plate. “I’ll tell you, he had a great BP,” Johnson said. “He changed his style up to be a little more aggressive. He got up on the plate a little bit. I told him before the game, ‘That’s you.’ I think you’re going to see a great second half out of him.”
The adjustment led to perhaps the best offensive games of Desmond’s season, a 4-for-4 night that included an opposite field double off the right field wall. All four of his hits went either up the middle or the other way, a sign of Desmond’s standing closer to the plate. “I made a little adjustment before the game,” Desmond said. “I felt really good.”
Desmond, who hit a home run Tuesday, is starting to again hit with the moderate power he showed in the minor leagues and last season. The bad news is, his on-base percentage is still .285. But the good news is, he’s raised that total 21 points since the all-star break. It’s been a tough offensive season for Desmond, but he seems to finally be heading in the right direction.
Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen came through. Of all the games Clippard and Storen have helped win this season, they played no bigger role in any game than last night. Clippard and Storen recorded the final 10 outs of the game, and the first of those came when Clippard entered with the bases loaded, the Nationals down by a run, and promptly threw Eric Young Jr. three straight balls.
“I hadn’t pitched in a few days,” Clippard said. “I was a little rusty. I had trouble getting the ball down all night. Fortunately, I was able to bear down there with a 3-0 count. I was able to execute some pitches and get out of that jam, which is huge. I tried to settle my nerves there and get some outs.”
Clippard did escape, freezing Young with a 3-2 changeup to end the sixth. It was only the fifth time all year he had entered in the sixth, but he held the same goal as always: get the ball to his roommate, Storen.
He then recorded the next five outs, getting up and down with an at-bat thrown in. Johnson so desperately needed Clippard in the game that, after he had already pitched 1 1/3 innings, Clippard batted before heading out for the eighth. The thin air of Coors Field crossed his mind – “I’d be lying if I didn’t think about it,” he said – but Clippard popped to right to end the inning.
“I was squeezing the heck out of the bat,” Clippard said. “I kind of fatigued my forearms a little bit, sot the grip on the ball was a little different. Other than that, it wasn’t too bad.”
Clippard allowed three hits in his two innings, which actually makes his recent stretch look a little worse. In his past 18 innings, Clippard has allowed one earned run on eight hits and six walks while striking out 19. Despite having thrown more innings than any reliever except Jonny Venters this season, Clippard seems to be getting stronger.
“I’ve said all year he’s a tough act to follow,” Storen said. “He comes in there, and he throws. When he goes in the game, I know I’m already in the game once he comes in the game.”
Storen entered in the middle of an at-bat, with a 1-0 count on Mark Ellis with two outs in the eighth. He had not tried for a four-out save since June 2, but he wasn’t surprised. “Clipp going in that early in the game, I knew I was probably going to have to go a little bit more tonight,” Storen said. “For me to come in there after he’d done such a good job, that’s huge.” Storen retired four of the five batters he faced, good enough for his 28th save this year.
The Nationals’ offense is coming along. Jayson Werth and Laynce Nix went a combined 0 for 9, and they left nine men on base. Otherwise, the Nationals had one of their better offensive games. Their 15 hits tied for their third-highest total this season. Rick Ankiel drilled three more hits, and so did Michael Morse, driving in a pair of runs, one on his 19th homer of the season. Danny Espinosa, who’d been slumping since the all-star break, went 2 for 4 with a walk and double.
They didn’t quite put it all together, but it was an impressive game. Of course, they did it in Coors Field almost entirely against relievers, but it’s something.