Bryce Harper managed to grab the headline, which is nothing new. But the Nationals’ 4-1 victory Friday night was an eventful little game beyond Harper’s homer in the wake of his postgame plea to teammates Wednesday.
From the start, there was something different. Jayson Werth led off the second inning and smashed a line drive back at former Nat Tom Gorzelanny. The ball drilled his left elbow and forced him from the game. The Brewers said he had a contusion, and it remained to be seen how much further time he would miss.
The chance to beat up on the Brewers turned into a dejecting experience. Alfredo Figaro, a journeyman long reliever, allowed only one hit over four innings. The Nationals would eventually pound out 12 hits – one more than their two games in Detroit combined – but Manager Davey Johnson felt like scoring four runs was a missed opportunity.
“We should have roughed up their bullpen more than we did,” Johnson said.
Once Gorzelanny left, it was a blessing and a curse. Sure, they pushed deep into the Milwaukee bullpen, which should also help as the series progresses – five Brewers relievers threw a combined 134 pitches. But they had prepared for Gorzelanny, and instead face a smorgasbord of arms.
“I was excited to get the lefty out of there, of course,” Harper said. “I think facing a new guy every single inning is pretty tough. It’s not fun to face guys that throw 97, and then 91, and then 97 again and then facing a lefty in Mike Gonzalez. You know, it’s tough. We grinded it out tonight and did the things we need to do to win a ballgame.”
Even if the Nationals only managed one hit off Figaro, Ian Desmond made it count. He smashed a double to center to lead off the fifth. Only one of his 12 steals this year had been of third base. You would think he would a fast runner with 28 doubles on the season may have swiped third more frequently, but no.
Friday night, though, something was different. Denard Span was hitting seventh, which changed the dynamic of how Desmond viewed the situation.
“With Denard down there, it’s going to provide me a lot of opportunities for me to steal third,” Desmond said. “They got to play in for the bunt. It’s a tough play for any third baseman to play in and get back to the bag.”
And so Desmond bolted for third. Jonathan Lucroy’s throw was on target, but as Desmond predicted, third baseman Jeff Bianchi could not make the play. The ball bounced past Bianchi – an error on the third baseman – and Desmond trotted home with the game’s first run.
The Nationals’ offense was otherwise led by Werth, whose hot streak didn’t end in July. Last month, Werth led the National League in homers (seven), RBI (22) and OPS (.1.072).
In his first August game, Werth smacked two singles and a double, raising his season average to .309. There aren’t many players in the league hitting at his level right now.
“He’s being aggressive,” Johnson said. “He’s swinging. I always say the more you swing, you know where you’re timing is at on every pitch. He’s being very aggressive, I like it.”
The Nationals’ four runs were more than enough for Jordan Zimmermann, who snapped a personal three-game losing streak with his career-best 13th win. Zimmermann danced around four doubles and four walks and a hit batter in six scoreless innings.
“I had pretty good stuff,” Zimmermann said. “The fastball was good, the curveball was good. I didn’t throw that many sliders. Every inning, there was a double or a walk and a guy would steal a base. There he sat on second with no outs but I was able to get a few ground balls and some easy outs when I needed them.”
Zimmermann made his second career start in Milwaukee, which is a three-hour drive from his tiny hometown of Auburndale, Wisc. He left the maximum 20 tickets, but he knew at least 100 other friends and family members had come down.
“I looked up a few times as I was walking off and I could see a few of my buddies scattered around up there,” Zimmermann said.
Once Zimmermann exited, Ryan Mattheus worked a scoreless seventh. Tyler Clippard lost his scoreless innings streak at 15 when Lucroy blasted a first-pitch, chest-high fastball over the left-center field fence.
Rafael Soriano closed it out and punctuated his 27th save with a big ol’ untuck. He struck out the last two batters he faced with seven pitches in a 1-2-3 inning. Desmond still teased him afterward in the clubhouse because his fastball only reached 91 miles per hour.
“Yeah,” said Johnson, who happened to be walking by on his way from the food room to his office. “But he was painting.”