“When I was up there, I thought they were going to walk both of us to get to [Adam] LaRoche with nobody warming in the ’pen and a lefty-lefty situation,” Desmond said. “Probably the smart move.”
The victory was the Nationals’ 13th in their past 18 games and kept their playoff hopes flickering as they stayed seven games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild-card spot. At 67-65, the Nationals moved to two games over .500 for the first time since July 11. And they did so with only two innings from their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who didn’t return to the game after a 72-minute rain delay.
The bullpen provided seven innings of solid relief with some hairy situations sprinkled in. Craig Stammen delivered three strong innings and allowed one run in front of the smallest crowd of the season, an announced attendance of 24,394 that was a mere fraction of that by game’s end. In his first appearance since returning from the minor leagues, Ryan Mattheus was handed a 2-1 lead and ended the sixth inning trailing, 3-2.
But Werth homered to straightaway center to start the Nationals sixth to tie the game, and Desmond delivered in the seventh. Drew Storen pitched around two base runners he allowed in the seventh inning. Then Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano tossed scoreless innings to preserve the victory.
“Down to really one guy in the ’pen and one guy on the bench,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That was it.”
As a deluge of rain fell on Nationals Park in the bottom of the second inning, second baseman Steve Lombardozzi sliced a double to left field off Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez with two outs. It was enough to score Desmond from second base and give the Nationals an early 1-0 lead. Strasburg came to the plate as the falling rain mounted. Umpires signaled for play to be halted and players raced into their dugouts.
Neither Strasburg, who threw only 22 pitches, nor Alvarez would return. The delay was too long, so the Nationals turned to Stammen. Given his light workload and depending on how Strasburg feels on Thursday, Johnson said the right-hander may start Sunday.
Stammen was given a 2-0 lead in the third inning when left fielder Bryce Harper laced a double to left off reliever Ryan Webb. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman scored from first on the hit from Harper, who has heated up again with minor adjustments at the plate. He has stood more upright in the batter’s box, been more selective and his swing less violent. As a result, Harper has a 10-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .381 (16 for 42).