“That was real important for him,” Span said. “Once we got out big, he started to settle in. He started getting ahead of hitters.”
Drew Storen jogged in from the bullpen. With two outs, a walk, a single and an error from second baseman Anthony Rendon pushed a run across. Storen worked a 3-2 count to Cody Ross, the tying run, then fired a 94-mph fastball. Ross swung, and something went flying out toward left field. Relief set in when it became obvious the object was Ross’s bat. The baseball rested harmlessly in Kurt Suzuki’s mitt.
The Nationals, for once, had built a big enough lead to absorb the scare. Playing two days after a groin strain knocked him out in the fourth inning, Werth ripped a double, scored two runs and drove in another. He trotted gingerly on the bases and in the outfield — the first batter of the game, Willie Bloomquist, reached on a double after Werth could not a reach a ball hit to the right-center field gap. At the plate, though, he produced.
“I don’t think he’s 100 percent,” Johnson said. “I worry about him all the time. It’s been that kind of year. He’s had a lot of little injuries. But we need him in there.”
The Nationals followed their usual pattern for the first two innings. They did not tally their first hit until Span — hitting .208 with a .260 on-base percentage and .278 slugging percentage in June — rolled an RBI single through the middle in the third inning. Werth singled behind him.
When LaRoche walked to the plate, he had not hit a home run in his past 86 plate appearances. It seemed certain the drought would grow to 87 when Cahill jumped ahead in the count, 0-2. Cahill hung an 80-mph changeup, and LaRoche smashed it to left-center field into the visitors’ bullpen.
“I’ve been getting some hits and throwing some good at-bats together, but not in position to really drive the ball,” LaRoche said. “Today, I felt better. I felt the timing was a little bit better. When I hit some home runs, they come in kind of bursts.”
“The tension in the clubhouse is because guys aren’t doing the things they’re capable of doing,” Johnson said. “If they’re doing the things they’re capable of doing, we have a really fun clubhouse. It’s just going to take a few hits.”
Late Tuesday night, Werth walked to the back of the Nationals’ clubhouse and settled into his locker. Span, sitting a couple stalls away, complimented him on the quality of his at-bats. Werth thanked him first, and then said, “Let’s get on a roll.”