The Nationals’ offense may be coming alive

Most of the time, 11 runs over two days would provide little reason to celebrate, or even to notice. But after two weeks of almost entirely zeros, ones and twos, the five and six the Nationals put in the run column over the weekend stood out. They have waited all season for their offense to show up, and this weekend brought hope it may finally be arriving.

The sources of those runs reinforced the importance. Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa, after fighting slumps for April, each showed strong signs of turning the corner.

Since Espinosa returned from the two-day hiatus given to him by Manager Davey Johnson, Espinosa has gone 3 for 11 with a home runs, two sac flies and a hit by pitch. When LaRoche arrived in Atlanta last Monday, he was wearing an 0-for-26 drought. He then reached base 13 times in 29 plate appearances. In Pittsburgh alone, LaRoche reached base nine times, and one of the outs he made was a warning-track fly that stayed in the park only because the wind pushed it in.

Because of their streakiness as hitters, LaRoche and Espinosa serve as the central X-factors of the Nationals’ lineup. LaRoche can be a black hole in the middle of the order, or he can put an offense on his back for a month. Espinosa can appear to be barely playable, and then he can tap into his power, cut down on strikeouts and, from the seventh spot, turn the Nationals’ lineup into one of the deepest in the game.

“For some reason, I feel like when I get going, we score more runs,” LaRoche said. “I feel like when I’m going, a lot of guys are hitting, and we’re pushing more runs across.”

The Nationals are close to having their full lineup again. Jayson Werth should return from his left hamstring tightness. Ryan Zimmerman, after going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts Friday in his first game back, blistered the ball the rest of the weekend. Wilson Ramos, now completely over his hamstring pull, had five hits over the past two days.

Over Saturday and Sunday, the Nationals drew eight walks, a sign of more disciplined at-bats. That could simply be a quirk of a sample size. Or maybe the message from the team meeting Johnson called Saturday stuck.

“Last year, we had such a tough lineup because we would grind out tough at-bats and we would make pitchers throw pitches,” Zimmerman said. “And making pitchers throw pitches, it’s kind of overrated because you don’t want to take good pitches to hit. You also don’t want to swing at bad pitches. I think a lot in the beginning of the season, whether I’ve been there or watching, obviously I’m guilty of this as well, but I think we’re swinging at pitcher’s pitches early in the count instead of taking those. If it’s a strike, oh well, it’s strike one. But if it’s a ball, now you’re up 1-0.

“I think last year we did a really good job of that – not so much working to get the pitcher out by the fifth inning, but working him to make a mistake. The further you go into the game and the further they go into the game with hard innings, they’re apt to make more mistakes. And I think we did a good job of that. The next step now is to get a few hits with runners out there. But you’ve got to get them on first before you get those hits.”

After waiting for a full month, the hits came this weekend. Starting tomorrow, against longtime Nationals silencer Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers, we’ll see if that started or trend or only served as a blip.

FROM THE POST

Gio Gonzalez righted the ship just in time as the Nationals won, 6-2, to polish off a restorative road trip.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Harper ejected in the first

Werth untucks

Span returns, Ramos plays two in a row

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Norfolk 6, Syracuse 5: Eury Perez went 3 for 6 with a double. Chris Young allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings on six hits and a walk, striking out four. Through three starts, Young has a 7.04 ERA with eight strikeouts, six walks 23 hits allowed over 15 1/3 innings. Erik Davis allowed no runs in two relief innings on one hit and one walk, striking out two.

Binghamton 6, Harrisburg 1: Anthony Rendon went 2 for 4 with a walk. Since he returned to the Senators, Rendon is 2 for 7 with two walks. Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a double.

Potomac 3, Myrtle Beach 2: Billy Burns went 2 for 4 with a walk. Michael Taylor went 2 for 5. Taylor Hill allowed one run in seven innings on two hits and two walks, striking out seven and lowering his ERA to 2.21.

Hagerstown 5, Rome 4: Brandon Miller went 3 for 3 with two doubles and a home run. Kylin Turnbull allowed four runs in five innings on seven hits and a walk, striking out three.

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · May 5, 2013