The biggest ovation from 36,389 fans was for the return of star reliever Drew Storen, who pitched for the first time all season, had a perfect inning, retired red-hot David Wright and Jason Bay and unveiled a new diving sinker. If you need elbow surgery, Storen said, at least use the rehab time to perfect a new pitch. “I have extra mobility in the elbow now. I’m not death-gripping the ball as much and the two-seamer’s diving a lot more,” he said.
Finally, the team’s infield leader, all-star shortstop Ian Desmond, returned much earlier than some expected from the painful oblique muscle injury that has nagged him for six weeks. First at-bat, single to center.
“I had to represent the Goon Squad,” Desmond said about Johnson’s reserves, who went 6 for 9 with three runs scored.
The next 11 weeks figure to be a high-pressure honeymoon for the Nats, an extraordinary baseball anomaly that will almost certainly end next season. By then a major offseason free-agent addition may boost their chances, more talent may arrive from the minors, and no one will ever again say the word “shutdown” in the same sentence with “Stephen Strasburg.”
This is the first and last summer when the Nats will be far ahead of expectations and timetables, facing the July 31 trade deadline with as much concern for team chemistry as a mega deal.
They’re still at the innocent stage where it’s a big deal to see a potential young standout pitcher, Ross Detwiler, have a breakthrough in mound demeanor. Detwiler showed “a little bit of Gio out there,” he said of his grins on the mound in seven scoreless innings on Tuesday. “I was pressing too hard. Once you let all that go and get relaxed, then you have your best results.”
Here it all is on our plate — young team, learning process, first realistic pennant race — a story as sweet as summer corn for a town where winning baseball hasn’t been tasted in generations.
And here it comes, revving up this weekend four times against the Braves, each game important, yet probably not as vital as the trends developing just under the surface.
“Whoo, big deal,” Desmond said of the Braves series, his tone both serious and not. “It’s great. Play good clean baseball and it’s an opportunity to pick up some ground. But it’s July, still really early, too.
“We want that uncharted territory,” he said.
“September,” he said.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/