Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos producing at the bottom of the lineup

brushback_harperSince Bryce Harper came back from his knee injury and pushed Anthony Rendon lower in the lineup and Wilson Ramos returned from the disabled list, the bottom of the Nationals order has changed dramatically in complexion. Before, those spots produced relatively little. Now, the seventh and eighth spots in the order pose threats.

The lineup is longer and more difficult for an opposing pitcher to navigate, as evidenced Wednesday against Cliff Lee and, actually, for the past week. “That creates a lot of opportunities for the guys in the front of the lineup,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “They’ve been swinging the heck out of it and we keep them healthy we’ll be fine.”

Since Ramos returned from the his hamstring strain on July 4, he and Rendon have combined to hit .340 (15 for 44) with four home runs and 13 RBI. (And that’s even with Ramos alternating with Kurt Suzuki at catcher.) In his second call-up a month ago, Rendon has hit well in any spot of the lineup. He’s hitting .315 in those 31 games.

It’s Ramos, however, who perhaps has been the biggest difference lower in the lineup. Suzuki took on a heavy workload while Ramos was gone for a month and a half, so the fresher Ramos has already been a big boost from the eighth spot. And, Ramos, at this stage in his career, is a better hitter who produces more power.

“There’s really no break one through eight so it’s hard for the opposing pitcher to get through that lineup,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “And just when you think you have a break you have guys in the seven and eight spot who can hurt you, too.”

Including Wednesday’s game, the seventh spot in the Nationals’ lineup has hit .206, second worst in the majors, and with a league-worst .577 OPS, mostly because it was once occupied for 32 games by a struggling Danny Espinosa and other underperforming hitters such as Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina. The more Rendon hits from that position the more those numbers will even out.

The eighth spot in the Nationals’ order, held down mostly by Suzuki in Ramos’ absence, has hit .239, near the major league average. With Ramos and Rendon, those two spots in the lineup should only improve. Since his return, Ramos is hitting .450 (9 for 20) with two home runs in six games.

“I’m happy for how I feel right now at the plate,” Ramos said. “I’m happy for what I’m doing. I was on the DL for a long time so after that I come here and hitting like that makes me feel great and feel happy. That’s what I want to help the team as much as I can and I keep doing that.”

FROM THE POST

A barrage of home runs by the Nationals and strong pitching from Gio Gonzalez top the Phillies, 5-1, writes Adam Kilgore.

Camden Yards is fun again thanks to this Orioles team, writes Thomas Boswell.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Ryan Mattheus throwing in Viera, Christian Garcia suffers another setback

Home Run Derby gets scratched off Bryce Harper’s ‘bucket list’

Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing woes have gone away

Taylor Jordan proving his mettle

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Buffalo 4, Syracuse 3: Tanner Roark allowed three runs on five hits over seven innings and struck out four. Michael Broadway tossed a scoreless inning and Erik Davis took the loss with a three hits and a run in the ninth. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 3 with a home run, walk and two runs, and raised his batting average to .200.

Harrisburg is on all-star break.

Winston-Salem 4, Potomac 1: A.J. Cole, who will play in the Futures Games, was limited to three scoreless innings. Kevin Keyes drove in a run and Billy Burns went 1 for 3 with two walks.

Hickory 11, Hagerstown 7: Ian Dickson allowed eight runs on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings. Narciso Mesa finished 2 for 6, Wes Schill smacked three hits and Brandon Miller drove in two runs.

Auburn was suspended.

Also on Nationals Journal

Ryan Mattheus throwing in Viera, Christian Garcia suffers another setback