Much transpired between 4 p.m. and just before 11 p.m. on Wednesday: the Nationals played two games, lost half a game in the National League East standings to the Atlanta Braves and moved one game closer to Washington’s first playoff berth in 79 years. Even more happened: the Nationals saw reassuring signs from Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman after they played following treatment for injuries; little-used Chien-Ming Wang showed some progress; starter John Lannan struggled for the first time this season; and much more. Here’s a look at it all:
Encouraging news from Espinosa
Espinoa started in the day’s first game and showed no ill effects in his first action since resting his shoulder and receiving a cortisone shot Monday for a bone bruise in his left shoulder capsule. He went 1 for 4 and made two slick plays in the field, once ranging and sliding to his left to snag a ball, the type of play that likely hurt his shoulder in the first place. After the first game, Espinosa lobbied Manager Davey Johnson to play the second, but Johnson didn’t want put such as heavy load back on Espinosa.
“Davey just wanted to not push it too hard the first day out and make sure that I was all right for the rest of the season,” the second baseman said.
During the Nationals’ dramatic six-run rally in the eighth inning of the second game, Espinosa pinch-hit and singled to left field. He played the final inning at second base without making a play. Espinosa said afterward that he felt better overall, maybe not 100 percent yet, but “pretty close.”
“Going through what I had to go through the past 10 games or so and just feeling almost weak at the plate, not being able to control my bat, it’s not a good feeling,” he said. “To be able to go up there tonight with confidence that my shoulder felt better and felt stronger, it was a good feeling.”
Zimmerman gets another shot
Zimmerman received his fourth cortisone shot of the season on his right shoulder before the first pitch of the first game. The most recent previous shot, on June 24, lasted nearly three months and propelled Zimmerman to one of the hottest streaks in baseball during that time.
Following Wednesday’s games, Zimmerman said his shoulder felt “good.” His performance hadn’t slipped with the most recent flare-up, and he said the latest shot was more preventative than anything.
“It was just starting to act up a little bit again,” he said. “Nothing like it was before. We knew doing it last time helped it so there was no reason to wait. Might as well just do it now and get it back to where it was before.”
Morse better, still stiff
The outfielder returned to action after missing four games with a bone bruise in his left shoulder. He went 1 for 4 with a single in the first game and 2 for 4 with an important rally-starting home run and three RBI in the second one. He said his wrist felt “a little stiff” when he started playing.
Johnson had originally said he would rest Morse in the second game. But he asked Morse between the contests if he could play again, and Morse agreed he could. More importantly, Morse showed his power again. While he was still hitting, the wrist injury had sapped much of his power. Before Wednesday, he had only two home runs in the span of 22 games since mid-August.
“I got to let it go on a couple balls, and I was pretty happy about that,” he said. “I came back in the dugout and I wasn’t too sore. That’s good.”
Blown call in the second game
On that blown call in the fourth inning of the second game that gave the Dodgers another run, Matt Kemp admitted not reaching home before Zimmerman tagged Adrian Gonzalez out at third base.
At first, asked about the play, Kemp responded: “I probably should’ve just been running forward and not looking back. That was close. I don’t know if I made it or not.”
Told that replay showed that he didn’t cross home plate before the inning’s final out, Kemp answered: “Yeah, I don’t think I did. We got lucky right there.”
Crew chief Mike Winters declined to comment following the game.
Lannan stumbles with command
Making his fourth start of the season, and second as Stephen Strasburg’s replacement in the starting rotation, Lannan struggled mightily for the first time. He allowed six runs on eight hits over 3 2/3 innings and walked two. At one point, it felt as if he was going to be singled out of the game: he walked two consecutive batters in the third inning, then allowed the second and third singles of the inning, putting the Nationals in an early, 3-0 hole.
“After that third inning, I knew I had an opportunity there to kind of keep it right there,” Lannan said. “And I just had trouble finding the strike zone. That was it. Just going out there, I had trouble with my two-seam. They took pitches in the dirt and were patient and fouled balls off, and I just didn’t have good rhythm.”
Wang shows progress
The right-hander hadn’t pitched for the Nationals since June 30. He was rehabbing from a hip injury that, in part, led to a loss of effectiveness with his trademark sinker. In all, since the beginning of the season, Wang has made 14 rehab starts, recovering from a hamstring injury and, mostly, the repeated hip issues.
After Lannan got knocked out of the game in the fourth, Wang came in and immediately unfurled a wild pitch, which sailed to the backstop and allowed a run to score. Wang induced six ground-outs in the next 2 1/3 innings, with no additional scoring. As Johnson weighs his options for a spot starter on Sunday, Wang showed some promise. His stamina, given his injuries, is Johnson’s biggest concern.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Johnson said. “For not having thrown, I thought he had pretty good sink. He got a lot of ground balls. He had a little more problem with the left-handers. But I liked the way, with the long layoff, the way he threw the ball.”
Why Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche were pulled
After falling behind 6-0 in the fourth inning of the day’s second game, Johnson pulled Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth for backups, essentially signaling the game was getting out of hand and wanting to rest his starters.
Tyler Moore took over at first base because, Johnson said, LaRoche’s knee was a little stiff. Johnson had initially said that Zimmerman would get the second game off, but he started. Once the Dodgers had a big lead, Johnson sensed that the anesthetic from the earlier cortisone shot was wearing off for Zimmerman, and pulled him for Chad Tracy. Johnson wanted to give Werth a break also and, since he made the final out in the previous inning, Corey Brown replaced him in a double switch.
Brown played well, going 1 for 3 with a double, and was the heart of the eighth-inning rally.
“In that kind of game, it gives the other guys, they’ve got a lot of energy,” Johnson said. “It gives them an opportunity to play.”
With his triple in the first game, Bryce Harper has 49 extra-base hits — the most by any teenager in a season.
FROM TODAY’S POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Nats’ magic number to win the division: 9
To clinch a wild card: 1
Current NL matchups
Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*
Reds vs. Giants
*The Braves lead the Cardinals by 6 1/2 games. The Cardinals lead the Dodgers by two games, the Brewers by 2 1/2 and the Phillies by four games.