After they entered the fifth inning down, 4-1, the Nationals erupted with five runs and chased left-hander Wade Miley, a top Rookie of the Year candidate, before he could survive the inning. An RBI double by Jayson Werth. A two-run single by Ryan Zimmerman. A double to right-center by Michael Morse. The line kept moving.
“Right now, we can afford to have games like today,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We can have our starter out there grinding through without his best stuff, and still pull away with the win. I got to think in the first couple months, when we ran into a game like this, we were losing it.”
The Nationals took control in the five-run fifth inning, and they spent the rest of the game holding on. Tom Gorzelanny, Ryan Mattheus, Michael Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard embarked on an epic bullpen adventure. They pitched 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings, with each of the first three relievers stranding the tying run in scoring position. Clippard made it easy in the ninth with three outs in five pitches.
The relievers’ performance underscored a hidden key to the Nationals’ win streak. Manager Davey Johnson has interchanged roles in the bullpen to keep them fresh, and they possess the depth and talent to still hold leads. With Drew Storen and Sean Burnett unavailable, Johnson used Gonzalez to set up and did not miss a beat.
“The way everybody is out there pitching, you could put anybody in that situation,” Gonzalez said. “You could put whoever you want. That’s how confident the bullpen is right now. . . . I really feel like this bullpen, you just don’t mess with it.”
The Nationals are 10-0 since in games Werth has played since he returned Aug. 2 from a broken wrist. Werth, who batted leadoff Saturday for the first time this year, has gone 14 for 34 with seven walks and four doubles. His return lengthened a lineup reaching its full potential. Ian Desmond still has to return from an oblique strain; Saturday afternoon he took 30 swings in the batting cage. But in games Werth has played this season, the Nationals have averaged 5.6 runs.
“This makeup of this lineup is totally different,” Johnson said. “It’s in attack mode. We’re not up there defending like a goalie. We’re up there trying to do some damage. It’s fun to watch. I tip my hat to [hitting coach] Rick Eckstein.”