The Nationals headed home Sunday night, leaving Great American Ball Park at a time when, had the weather cooperated, they already would have been lounging back in D.C. They will start their series against the Padres out of first place for the first time since April 11, and with another heap of adversity to face.
On May 14, it doesn’t really matter what place the Nationals are in. (And, if it did, they would make the one-game wild card playoff … against the Mets. Did we mention it doesn’t matter what place the Nationals are in on May 14?) But today, what should feel like a positive weekend for the Nationals — they won the series against the Reds and finished their road trip at a respectable 3-3 — feels something close to a debacle.
There was Wilson Ramos, limping out of the Nationals’ clubhouse on crutches. There was Henry Rodriguez, sitting on a stool and explaining the calamitous ending to their Nationals’ loss on Sunday. In 24 hours, the Nationals lost their catcher to a torn ACL, an injury that could carry implications far into the future, and they were reminded that without Drew Storen, the ninth inning is far from a sure thing.
It was not all bleak. As ever, their rotation makes anything seem possible. The Nationals’ offense improved over the weekend, scoring seven runs Friday and six more Sunday. Danny Espinosa, whose power potential might make him the key to the Nationals’ lineup as they await Michael Morse’s return, went 5 for 10 with two homers, a double and two walks in the series.
Bryce Harper snapped an 0-for-11 slump with two hits Sunday. He seemed to calm down his swing, looking less jumpy in the box. He said he’s been feeling fine all along.
“I’ve been feeling great at the plate,” Harper said. “Even the past couple games, if I’ve been struggling or not, I feel great at the plate. I felt great the plate. I’ll get it going.”
The Nationals could have scored more runs Sunday, enough to make Rodriguez’s train-wreck ninth inning irrelevant. They left 14 men on base and turned 16 hits and six walks into six runs. Losing Morse and Jayson Werth has sapped slugging from the middle of their lineup, and Ryan Zimmerman still hasn’t gotten on track. He has gone 6 for 26 since returning from the disabled list with one extra-base hit, a double. This year, he has one homer in 90 plate appearances.
“Offense picked up, but we’re still not situational hitting real good,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’re probably not used to have them out there that much. I like the way we swung the bat. That was a good sign.”
Despite their injuries, the Nationals have positioned themselves to contend with little less than a quarter of the season elapsed. They have a chance to augment those chances in the next four games, playing the Padres and Pirates at Nationals Park. They have dealt with adversity all year long and thrived, and they will have to keep doing it now.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 4, Rochester 2: Zach Duke allowed one earned run in seven innings on six hits and no walks, striking out three. Corey Brown went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. The Chiefs have won five straight.
Harrisburg 8, Akron 4: Eury Perez went 2 for 3 with a walk. Chris Rahl went 3 for 4. Devin Ivany went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Over the weekend, Danny Rosenbaum allowed no runs in six innings. For the season, Rosenbaum has allowed four earned runs in 50 2/3 innings, a 0.71 ERA, with 33 strikeouts and four walks.
Carolina 3, Potomac 2: The P-Nats produced two hits. Kevin Keyes went 1 for 4 with a double. Trevor Holder allowed no runs in three innings on one hit and no walks, striking out one.
Hagerstown was canceled.