Davey Johnson, a self-described offensive manager running a team with an offensive deficiency, could not stop smiling Tuesday night. With their bats, the Nationals stripped the Braves and sold them for parts. They ran around the bases all night, most of the time slowly.
“My kind of game there,” Johnson said afterward, a giddy grin plastered on his face. “That’s what I’m talking about. Man, that game was fun. I love games like that. I live for games like that.”
The Nationals scored nine runs, only four less than they had scored during the entirety of the six-game losing streak they carried into the game. Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Laynce Nix – hitters 3 through 6 in the Nationals’ lineup – all smashed home runs.
“It’s nice to have a one-run game,” Nix said.
Their outburst came against Jurrjens, a frequent victim of theirs and, really, theirs alone. The Nationals have scored 17 earned runs against Jurrjens this year in 16 innings, a 9.56 ERA for Jurrjens. Against the rest of the league, he has a 2.18 ERA, which would rank second in the majors. As it is, he ranks 16th in the majors.
“You know, I don’t really know,” said Nix, who doubled off Jurrjens and hit his home run off of reliever Cristhian Martinez. “The times we’ve faced him, sometimes he’s left some breaking pitches and some off-speed pitches up in the zone. And we’ve hammered them. Knowing that he’s a great pitcher going into the game, we’re on our toes.”
Morse continued to show the switch from first base to left field will not slow him down. He hit a homer to left field in the second that for a while did not look like it would come down. When it did, it landed in the second section of seats, “one of the longest home runs I’ve seen hit,” Johnson said. Morse added an RBI double and run-scoring single, too.
Zimmerman went 3 for 5, giving him four hits in his last six at-bats after a 1-for-17 mini-slump. In the two games he started against the Reds over the weekend, Zimmerman went 0 for 9 with five strikeouts, a sudden end to his scorching month. Tuesday, he reverted to his previous form. Now, in August, Zimmerman is hitting .347/.391/.584 with five homers and 17 RBI.
“I’m just happy I had a good game,” Zimmerman said. “I had a couple bad games in Cincinnati. I got away from my approach for a couple days. Tonight I just got back to simplifying everything and just doing what I do.”
Espinosa rocked only his third home run since the all-star break, giving him 19 for the season after his power-packed first half. Espinosa explained that’s typical for him. Like many hitters, his home runs tend to come bunched together.
“My power numbers in previous years really fluctuated month to month,” Espinosa said. “I’ve never been a guy who will consistently hit four or five a month. I’ll go through a streak where I’ll hit eight, and then I’ll hit two. Then I’ll six. When you find your swing, you find that stroke, a whole bunch will come.”
Espinosa has lately been digging out of a second-half slump. In the first 28 games after the all-star break, Espinosa hit .168/.236/.257, drilling only seven extra-base hits. Johnson identified his problem as swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone. In 124 plate appearances, he drew nine walks and struck out 35 times.
Over the past two weeks, Espinosa has worked to correct the problem. He has drawn seven walks in 56 plate appearances with 15 strikeouts. His power has started coming back, and he has hit .298/.389/.468 in the past 13 games, an admittedly small and arbitrary sample.
“I like his at-bats,” Johnson said. “He’s not chasing as much. He went through two weeks where I thought he chased a lot, out of the zone. When he makes them throw it in there and he gets his pitch, he’s an awfully good hitter.”
Espinosa concurred, saying that “sometimes, my zone can get a little wide.” In a way, his slump only made it worse, and he had to pull himself out.
“When you start struggling, you start thinking about everything that you have to do right as far as your swing instead of seeing the ball,” Espinosa said. “I needed to go back to seeing the ball before I could try to put a good swing on it. That’s kind of what got back – I’m trying to see a good pitch and take a good swing at it.”
The Nationals, finally, took plenty of good swings Tuesday night. It made their manager awfully happy.
FROM THE POST
Livan Hernandez threw his 50,000th pitch in a 9-2 win over the Braves, and afterward he said he wants to play for the Nats next year so badly he would pitch in long relief.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse was off.
Potomac 5, Lynchburg 4: The P-Nats moved one win away from clinching a playoff spot. Destin Hood went 1 for 4 with a home run and a walk. Zachary Walters went 2 for 5.
Asheville 6, Hagerstown 5: David Freitas went 2 for 5 with a double and a home run. Randolph Oduber went 2 for 4 with a home run and a walk.
Auburn 11, Jamestown 2: Justin Miller went 3 for 4 with a home run and a walk. Bryce Ortega went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk.