PHILADELPHIA — Once the first half of the Washington Nationals’ season came to a close on a lazy, muggy afternoon here Sunday afternoon, players hurriedly packed their belongings and said their see-you-laters. Some planned to go fishing, play golf or hang around at the beach. Most hoped simply to rest with family. The Nationals’ 10-3 thrashing of the Philadelphia Phillies left all in a good mood ahead of a much-welcomed four-day break.
“Everybody be safe,” center field Denard Span said as he left for the airport, his black suitcase in tow. A backpack over his shoulders, catcher Jose Lobaton waited for him at the other end of the visitor’s clubhouse.
Later this week, the Nationals’ hopeful second-half push will begin. Thanks to an offensive eruption and a superb outing by starter Tanner Roark on Sunday, they put themselves in a comfortable position. After claiming the series in Philadelphia, they completed the first half of the season with a 51-42 record. They matched their season-high watermark of nine games over .500 and remained in a virtual tie with the Atlanta Braves atop the National League East.
“You set yourself up in the first half to give yourself a chance in the second,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “I think we’ve done that. We’ll see what we’ve got coming down the stretch and the type of team and see what we’re made of. It’ll be fun.”
After a trying and injury-filled first half of the season, the Nationals get a few days to rest their aches from the first 31 / 2 months.
They have endured major injuries to every part of their roster except the bullpen and have somehow managed to reach the all-star break in this position. At this juncture last season, the Nationals were a disappointing 48-47 and six games behind the Braves.
“Considering everything that’s gone on, we’re okay,” Manager Matt Williams said. “We’re right in the thick of our division, and we’ve got a chance. That’s all we can ask for considering all that’s gone on. It comes at a good time for us. We’ve got some guys that’ll play a lot of innings. They’ll use those few days off to rest up a little bit. It comes at a good time.”
The Nationals’ lineup has been whole for only two weeks, completed by Bryce Harper’s return June 30. In that span, the Nationals are 8-4. That’s a brief amount of time for evaluation, so the second half of the season will be an opportunity to see the Nationals for what they really are.
“We’re relatively healthy heading into the second half, which will be good,” Werth said. “That’s really all you can ask for.”
All but one National will get time off for the break. Instead of going home to Tampa, Tyler Clippard will head to Minneapolis for his second all-star game as a late replacement. Before Sunday’s game, Williams delivered the news to Clippard, who tried to lobby for bullpen mate Drew Storen instead.
“I think it’s a necessity to have the ‘Curly W’ out there in the All-Star Game and represent our team,” said Clippard, who will be the Nationals’ lone active player at the event. “So I’m happy to do it in that sense. Obviously, I would’ve liked to get a few more rounds of golf in during the break, but I’ll take one for the team here and go out there and represent us.”
Before their four-day respite, the Nationals had to wade through the Phillies. Roark received more than enough run support for his strong start. Against a lineup that featured six left-handed hitters, Roark plowed through the Phillies. He allowed only one run on four hits over seven innings.
Roark hasn’t been as effective pitching on longer-than-normal rest this season, and he took the mound Sunday for the first time in nine days following a rainout last week.
But he managed to settle into a groove early in the game, aided by Werth’s three-run homer in the first inning.
After game-opening singles by Span and Anthony Rendon, Werth crushed an 0-1 slider from Kyle Kendrick into the left field seats, jogged around the bases and gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead. Before he even took the mound, Roark could pitch with ease.
“We feel good,” Roark said. “We’re confident. We’re hitting the ball all over the place.”
The Nationals turned an already-comfortable lead into a blowout in the sixth inning. Rendon singled and Werth was hit by a pitch in the elbow. Adam LaRoche’s flyout to right allowed Rendon to take third base. Ryan Zimmerman’s lineout to right scored Rendon for a 4-0 lead, ending Kendrick’s day.
Against his replacement, left-hander Mario Hollands, the Nationals put the game out of reach. Harper lined a single up the middle. Ian Desmond smashed a double deep to center over Ben Revere’s head. Werth and Harper scored on the hit, with Harper’s helmet flying off somewhere between second and third base. Lobaton snapped an 0-for-20 skid with a run-scoring single to make it 7-0.
Two innings later, Zimmerman added a monstrous solo shot to center field. Even though the all-star break was only minutes away in the ninth inning, the Nationals wouldn’t let up. They added two more runs on RBI hits by Rendon and Werth.
Before they return to Washington for a team practice Thursday evening and resume their season Friday, the Nationals have a few days to relax ahead of their second-half push.
“We’re ending on a really good note,” Clippard said. “I think the last three, three-and-a-half weeks of baseball that we’ve played has really been who we are as a team. We’ve played the type of baseball that we’re capable of and maybe probably should’ve even won a few more of these games. But we’re playing well, and we’re excited to move into the second half with the way we’re playing.”