“If you’re going to call it once, you’ve gotta call it twice,” Desmond said. “You gotta keep on calling it. It’s consistency. They did a good job. That’s what we expect.”
As Lopez stood with his back foot on the rubber, he flinched his right arm as it hung loose. The slight move looked as if Lopez was going to reach into his glove hand before throwing, but he stopped both times. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said he actually spotted Lopez make that movement three times, though it was called only twice.
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“Umpires aren’t going to call something like that to tie up a game unless it’s obvious,” Zimmerman said.
Lopez and Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright were later ejected. Lopez was tossed for yelling at first base umpire John Hirschbeck as he ran off the field following the inning. Hirschbeck, the crew chief, told a pool reporter that Wright was ejected for making the hand gesture for crazy from the top step of the dugout.
An inning later, the balks were rendered moot. Pinch hitter Roger Bernadina doubled, and Zimmerman crushed a double to right field to score him and give the Nationals a 4-3 lead. Desmond, 23 for his past 57 during his 15-game hitting streak, delivered a clutch single up the middle for a precious insurance run that grew in importance when Rafael Soriano yielded a run in the ninth.
The late offensive outburst overcame the Nats’ ongoing struggles against left-handers, even mediocre ones. Entering Thursday, the Nationals were batting just .209 against left-handers, the worst mark in the majors. Francis, working with an array of off-speed pitches and sinkers, held the Nationals to two runs on five hits over six innings, while striking out eight.
Stammen pitched two scoreless innings of relief for Detwiler, working around two base runners in the seventh. Xavier Cedeno and Drew Storen combined to toss a perfect eighth inning. Soriano pitched a rocky ninth for his 17th save.
If the Nationals hope to stay above a .500 record, a healthy starting rotation will be part of the solution. The Nationals were built on the strength of their starters, and losing two key pieces for at least the past two weeks has had ripple effects on the rest of the roster. The return of Detwiler — and soon Strasburg — will boost a rotation that has the fifth-best ERA in the majors at 3.45.
“That’s a huge part of our team,” Stammen said. “The strength of our team is our starting pitching, and getting those two guys back here shortly it’s going to only improve.”