Danny Espinosa’s new attitude, Ian Desmond’s hot streak lift the Nationals

brushback_harperAs he sat in the visitors’ dugout at Nationals Park for two games, White Sox Manager Robin Ventura gained an appreciated for the totality of the Nationals lineup. He expected the top half to test his pitching staff. He realized the bottom half can do damage, too.

“You look at the first four and they’re probably names you know,” Ventura said. “But the rest of that lineup is pretty solid. It’s a well-balanced lineup. … You’re looking at a pretty complete team and it’s tough to get through them three times.”

Last night, after Bryce Harper’s home run sparked the Nationals’ offense, the bottom half of the order carried the Nationals to a second straight victory. Namely, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond, batting seventh and sixth, continued their strong recent performance. Espinosa went 2 for 4 with a double, both hits driving home a run. Desmond went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a triple, giving him seven extra-base hits in his past 21 at-bats and upping his slugging percentage to .677.

Espinosa has felt good all season about the swing he reworked in spring training, and results are starting to show — he has six hits in his past 21 at-bats, four of them doubles.

“He’s been swinging the bat great this year,” Desmond said. “His attitude is unbelievable. He’s due for a big year this year.”

About that attitude, Espinosa said he made a conscious change in his outlook this year. Last season, he took his slumps hard and didn’t allow himself to relax.

“There were certain times last year where the frustration would kick in and it would eat me alive,” Espinosa said. “I’d go home. I’d think about it. I couldn’t let anything go. Now this year, I want to go back to having fun, like I did in the minor leagues. Not that I took anything for granted, but to enjoy every second that I’m out there and not take anything too serious. Just go out there, do my best and play hard, and things will fall into place.”

As for Desmond, he attributed his big day, in part, to the rapid pace of Jordan Zimmermann.

“The biggest thing for me today was Jordan,” Desmond said. “We were on the field and off on the blink of an eye. You never really got a chance to cool down. That was probably the biggest thing tonight. That keeps me more locked than standing out there, thinking about the things I’m doing.”

For his part, Zimmermann threw only 90 pitches in seven innings. Zimmermann has only once in his career recorded an out in the eighth inning – and, oddly enough, it came in the first start he made after Manager Davey Johnson took over.

Wednesday night, Johnson vowed to let Zimmermann pitch deeper into games later this season. But not yet.

“He’s usually very pitch-efficient,” Johnson said. “I’ll go further with him. He had a long delay going into the seventh. I’m just not going to push him at that point. I’ve got the [relievers] I want coming in.”

Zimmermann had no problem coming out of last night’s game when he did, insisting he knows Johnson will soon let him finish what he starts.

“I think he will,” Zimmermann said. “It’s still early in the year. I’ve thrown 90 pitches a couple times. I think we’re still trying to build up a little bit yet. Later in the year, I think he’ll let me going a little longer.”

FROM THE POST

Bryce Harper’s monster home run backs Jordan Zimmermann’s strong start in 5-2 win over the White Sox.

Adam Dunn saw the start of the Nationals rise to the top when he was here last here in 2010, writes Jason Reid.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Rafael Soriano on his recent shaky outings, how to improve

Nationals-White Sox start delayed 15 minutes after umpires get stuck in traffic

White Sox at Nationals discussion thread: Game 8

Denard Span tries to be most selective at the start

How Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano struggled Tuesday

Denard Span, Jayson Werth and the effect of seeing pitches

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse game was postponed due to heavy rain.

New Britain 17, Harrisburg 5: Blake Treinen, one of the minor league pitchers acquired in the Michael Morse trade, allowed three home runs and five runs over 5 1/3 innings in his second start. Reliever Rob Wort and Jose Lozado also allowed four runs each. Anthony Rendon went 1 for 5 and is hitting .192 (5 for 26) in seven games. Brian Goodwin went 1 for 4 and is hitting .207 (6 for 29) in seven games. In a blowout, left fielder Jose Lozada homered and then pitched the ninth inning, allowing four runs.

Salem 7, Potomac 2: Left-hander Robbie Ray made his second start of the season and allowed three runs, two earned, over six innings while striking out seven. Randolph Oduber and Cutter Dykstra each smacked two hits.

Hagerstown 6, Lakewood 0: Starter Blake Schwartz tossed five scoreless innings and struck out six. Bryan Harper tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, allowing one walk and striking out four. Left fielder Wes Schill drove in three runs on two singles.

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