Even though rookie Anthony Rendon produced in the second spot of the lineup for the past month, Johnson chose to move Werth back near the top of the lineup to put him ahead of Harper again, a combination that worked well last season. Werth wasn’t partial to the move, preferring to hit lower in the lineup like he had. When he returned from the disabled list last season, the Nationals’ offense scored a lot of runs with him at the top of the order. Johnson wants to recapture that and wanted the veteran presences of Werth and Zimmerman around Harper.
“With everybody healthy, look at our lineup. It’s balanced,” Werth said. “It’s right-left-right all the way down. You put Rendon down in the seventh hole and it’s a tough, balanced lineup, I mean it really is. We’ll see, but I like our lineup like that. I don’t necessarily like hitting second, but if that’s the best for our team. I’ve said it before, last year, when I led off, I didn’t really, for me personally, it wasn’t the best fit for me but it was the best for our team, and that’s why I felt like it should’ve happened.”
The offensive outburst was enough to withstand Zimmermann’s struggles in the middle innings and allow him to match his career-high in wins midway through the season. Only three times has Zimmermann allowed more than three runs in a game this year and each of the times he has gotten at least a four-run cushion.
Zimmermann allowed two runs in the fifth inning. In the sixth, he allowed another two — both solo home runs on pitches left over the plate — to trim the Nationals’ lead to 8-4, and his night was done after 88 pitches. Craig Stammen gave up two hits and a run in the seventh before Johnson pulled him with two outs for Drew Storen. Zimmermann attributed any lag to the toll of running the bases three times and scoring twice on a humid night.
“You get eight runs like that and you’re just pitching to the score,” he said. “I’m throwing fastballs and trying to get quick outs and trying not to fall behind anyone. They took the fastball the other way. I was just throwing it away. ... They obviously knew I was going to throw the fastball and I wasn’t going to mess around. They were ready for it.”
Even though Harper struck out, flied out, walked and reached on a fielder’s choice in his other plate appearances, the complexion of the Nationals’ lineup felt different by his presence. The Brewers had one more potent hitter to deal with, and the rest of the Nats could lean on his fire and aggressiveness.
“Having obviously Bryce back and getting [Werth] in the two-hole and just having everybody but [catcher Wilson] Ramos” helps, Span said. “But it seemed like our lineup is a lot deeper with Bryce back, and it makes it tougher for the opposing pitchers.”