More than three weeks into the season, the Nationals have already established a trend: Fall behind and come back, usually late in the game. Of their 12 wins, seven have been come-from-behind victories. Two, including Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the Angels, have been walkoff victories. Manager Matt Williams has said that while this is not an ideal way to win, he is pleased with what it reveals about the team’s attitude and ability.
“It doesn’t look good being down in the ninth with their closer in there at any point,” Williams said. “If they’ve shown anything, it’s that they fight and give ourselves more opportunities. A couple of big hits from the middle of our order. It’s good. They keep fighting all the way through.”
And with that, below are some leftovers from a wild win that featured a four-run ninth inning; Jayson Werth tying the score in the ninth with a swing at a 3-0 pitch; an early exit by starter Gio Gonzalez, who was pitching well, because of minor shoulder tightness in the cool and windy conditions; three bunt attempts against Angels starter Jered Weaver, including one by Bryce Harper with two strikes; and the much-debated transfer rule that helped lead to a crucial run.
>>> After Jose Lobaton homered in the ninth to cut the deficit to 4-2, Denard Span singled and Anthony Rendon drew a walk. Werth came to bat with one out. He quickly got ahead of struggling closer Ernesto Frieri. From the dugout, he got the signal from Manager Matt Williams to swing at the 3-0 pitch if it was good.
Last season, the Nationals swung at their fair share of 3-0 pitches. Werth, too, caught heat for grounding into a double play on a 3-0 pitch with two on in the eighth inning of an April loss last season. But Williams trusts his veteran outfielder to swing at a good pitch and he wants him to hit it hard to the left side. Already once before this season, Williams gave Werth the green light on a 3-0 pitch and he hit a two-run home run.
“It was one of those situations where you hit into a double play right there, it’s probably the worst play you’ve ever seen,” Werth said afterward. “If you get a hit, it’s the best. I’m glad it worked out, that’s for sure.”
In his career with the Nationals, Werth is now 7 for 9 with one double, two home runs, nine RBI and 41 walks with 3-0 counts. Five of those walks came this season.
“Some guys are comfortable swinging 3-0, some guys aren’t,” Werth said. “Sometimes even if you feel comfortable swinging 3-0, you don’t really feel it. But I felt it and I went for it.”
>>> Harper had two plays in the game that prompted some questions, but Williams stood behind him in both situations. In the sixth inning, trailing by one run and Adam LaRoche at first with no outs, Harper attempted a bunt with a 2-2 count against Weaver. He popped the ball up to catcher Chris Iannetta in foul territory for an out. Nothing came of the inning.
“They gave him that opportunity and I’m not opposed to him laying a bunt down with two strikes,” Williams said. “We’ve seen guys do it before. And if he gets that bunt down, it’s a base hit. I’m not concerned about that. He’s trying. He’s trying to do things to help us win. He could easily hit a homer, too, but he’s trying. He’s thinking about ways to get on base to help us win. That’s good.”
The second situation was a play in the eighth inning. Four days earlier, Harper was pulled from a game by Williams for “lack of hustle” on a groundout to first. Against the Angels, Harper had a similar play. With one out and trailing by two runs, he hit a groundball to first baseman Albert Pujols, who misplayed it. Harper jogged out of the batter’s box but then raced down the line when he saw Pujols’ mistake. Harper was safe but it was too close a play.
“He’s safe at first base,” Williams said. “That’s all I care about. We’re not asking him to go 100 percent all the time, as fast as he can possibly go at every single moment. Because not everybody does. But what we expect is that to give us a chance. And he gave us a chance on that play. The ball was mishandled by Albert. He kicked it in gear and got to first base. That’s all I care about.”
>>>In the top of the ninth inning, the Nationals gave up a run and it happened, in part, because of a controversial rule this season.
With one out and a runner at second, pinch hitter Raul Ibanez hit a liner to LaRoche. He caught the ball but dropped it while transferring to his throwing hand; he wanted to attempt a double play by throwing to second to get David Freese. Umpires are strictly enforcing the transfer rule, which calls for clean possession of the ball in the throwing hand.
Williams came out to talk to the umpires. LaRoche was charged with an error. Ibanez eventually scored two batters later on a Trout single that gave the Angels a 4-1 lead.
Some Nationals players have already spoken out against the new interpretation of the rule, calling it “unnecessary” and changing baseball. LaRoche felt the same way. But, a rule is a rule, players know umpires will call it that way now. According to a Fox Sports report last week, the transfer rule is likely to be revised by MLB.
“I’ve said it before that play: It’s one of the worst rules I’ve ever heard of,” LaRoche said. “I don’t feel like it’s baseball. The umpires are smart enough to make judgment calls and we’ve kind of handcuffed them to have no choice now. You’ve got to come out clean, come out with the ball clean, and it doesn’t make sense. It’s frustrating, especially in a close game where that could have ended up costing us. Hopefully we’ll get that rule changed sooner than later.”
>>> Gonzalez entered the game as one of the few starting pitchers to have marked success against Trout, albeit early in his career. But Trout snapped an 0 for 9 streak with a double in the first inning. In fact, Trout finished 1 for 2 with a walk and a run against Gonzalez.
The Nationals allowed 15 runs to the Angels in the three-game series, and seven were scored by Pujols and Trout combined.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 7, Louisville 0: Blake Treinen started and threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Aaron Laffey threw six scoreless innings and Manny Delcarmen threw a scoreless ninth inning. Jhonatan Solano drove in two runs. Emmanuel Burriss and Will Rhymes each had two hits.
Altoona 10, Harrisburg 9: Robert Gilliam allowed five runs on six hits over five innings. Tyler Herron blew the save by allowing four runs, one earned, and walking three over 2/3 of an inning. Cutter Dykstra went 1 for 4 for with two RBI. Justin Bloxom, Brandon Bantz and Caleb Ramsey each had two hits.
Winston-Salem 4, Potomac 2: Pedro Encarnacion allowed three runs, two earned, on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. Ian Dickson allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings. Kevin Keyes, Stephen Perez, Pedro Severino and Will Piwnica-Worms each had two hits. Khayyan Norfork and Keyes each drove in a run.
Hagerstown 5, Augusta 3 (13): Austin Voth allowed two runs, one earned, on three walks and four hits over three innings. Ryan Ullman allowed one unearned run on three hits over four innings. Justin Thomas and L.J. Hollins each fired three scoreless innings. Craig Manuel hit a two-run home run in the 13th. James Yezzo went 4 for 5 and John Wooten went 3 for 6 with two RBI.