Last year, Jerry Hairston saw just how far great pitching and solid defense could carry a light-hitting team. He played shortstop for the Padres, who rode a stellar bullpen and a consistent rotation to the final day of the season, when one more victory would have put them into the playoffs.
The season is still too young for Hairston to make perfect comparisons. Still, he’s starting to see a few similarities between those Padres and these Nationals, two teams for now linked only by low expectations at the start of the season.
“The last, I would say, week or so, it’s started to have that feel,” Hairston said. “But remember, it’s early. Our focus last year was just series to series. Just try to win each series, don’t get ahead of ourselves, just play good baseball and give ourselves a chance to win and hitting will come around.”
In adhering to Hairston’s series-to-series edict, no player in the clubhouse cared to summarize the importance of the next 10 days on the road: nine games against three National League East contenders that could leave the Nationals in a far, far different place by the next time they enter Nationals Park.
The Nationals flew to Philadelphia late Monday night. They’ll play three games against the Phillies, three against the Marlins and, after an off day, three against the Braves. On the pivotal – or at least as pivotal as an early-May road trip can be – road trip, they will receive an early feel for where they fit into one of baseball’s toughest divisions.
The NL East is the only with four teams currently .500 or better. The Marlins and Phillies, both 18-9, are tied for the best record in baseball, and it would not be a stretch to say that, with Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson, they’ve got the three best starters in the NL. They’ll have to try to score off them with an offense that’s scored 24 runs in the past eight games while being utterly carried by its starting rotation.
Well, that rotation and a defense that hasn’t made an error in four games while making several above-average plays. Defense is one of the hardest phases to evaluate, but the Nationals are starting to look like the defensive team they wanted to make themselves this offseason.
“It’s not just the pitcher making the outs,” Monday winner Tom Gorzelanny said. “There’s a lot of great plays out there. You saw that tonight with those guys, with a lot of guys. It shines on us, but it’s them who really got the job done for me.”
The first leg of the trip will be an interesting personal case for Jayson Werth, of course, who returns to his home for the previous four seasons. Werth will enter Philadelphia as a National for the first time with a slash line of .233/.325/.417 103 at-bats into his Washington tenure.
Early and often, we will know what Phillies fans think about Werth. By the end of the road trip, we will know a lot more about the Nationals than we do right now.
FROM THE POST
Tom Gorzelanny became the latest dominant start in a 2-0 victory over the Giants, throwing eight shutout innings and giving Michael Morse and Jerry Hairston a chance to redeem themselves.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Rochester 2: Collin Balester pitched two scoreless innings, allowing a walk and a hit while striking out three. Roger Bernadina went 1 for 3 with two walks.
Harrisburg 2, Bowie 0: Stephen Lomardozzi went 2 for 4 with a double. Derek Norris went 0 for 2 with two walks and is hitting .118 this year. Ryan Tatusko allowed no runs in 6 2/3 innings on two hits and three walks, striking out nine.
Potomac 3, Myrtle Beach 2: Danny Rosenbaum allowed no runs in seven innings on three hits and three walks, striking out four. Desitn Hood went 1 for 3 with a walk.
Hagerstown 5, Rome 0: Bryce Harper went 3 for 3 with two walks, a double and a run. Blake Kelso went 2 for 4 with a walk. Christopher McKenzie allowed no runs in seven innings on four hits and a walk, striking out two.