By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2010; 12:06 AM
Washington Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn entered Saturday night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals stalled in an extended slump. His powerful bat had become an afterthought, and one of the more assertive personalities on the team and at the plate was doing all he could to remain steady and composed, believing radical changes weren't the solution.
Then Manager Jim Riggleman tweaked the lineup, moving Dunn to the No. 5 slot for the first time this season. Considering the results in a 14-5 victory before 30,688 at Nationals Park, Riggleman just may be on to something.
Dunn forcefully emerged from an 8-for-65 rut with a homer, a double and five RBI, and Washington (55-75) overcame an unfavorable call in the third inning that got first base coach Dan Radison and pitcher Scott Olsen ejected to take a second of three from the Cardinals in this four-game series. The run total was the most by the Nationals at home since they came to the District in 2005.
"Last couple days I've been feeling really good and taking some good swings, just trying to figure out why I was missing some pitches," Dunn said. "We went back and kind of just looked over some tape, and it was just kind of a minor mechanical deal, I guess you could say."
Dunn's 32nd homer, a three-run blast in the fifth, was the difference on a night that featured two of the more peculiar sequences at Nationals Park this season. The first started after shortstop Ian Desmond laid down a bunt Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse fielded but threw errantly to first baseman Albert Pujols. That allowed two runners to score to tie the game at 3 and left Desmond standing at second base, or so the Nationals thought.
Home plate umpire Dan Belino called Desmond out for running outside the baseline. That prompted Riggleman to come onto the field for a lengthy discussion. Radison had been expressing his displeasure with the call to first base umpire Rob Drake and was tossed along with Olsen, who had been protesting from the dugout.
The Nationals responded resolutely. With two outs, Ryan Zimmerman singled to score pitcher Livan Hernandez from second and move Adam Kennedy to third. Up stepped Dunn to the plate, and the slugging first baseman delivered a double to left field that cleared the bases to give Washington a 4-3 lead. Michael Morse, who had a career-high four hits, followed with an RBI single but was thrown out going to second.
The Cardinals (69-58) came right back in the top of the fifth on Brendan Ryan's single and Lohse's RBI double. Lohse (2-6) scored on a double by Felipe Lopez, and the score was tied at 5. With first base open, Hernandez intentionally walked Pujols, the three-time NL MVP who is chasing the Triple Crown this season. Hernandez got Matt Holliday to fly out and then threw to Desmond covering second to pick off Lopez to end the inning.
The home half of the fifth began innocuously enough with Kennedy flying out to right and Desmond grounding to short. But Roger Bernadina and Zimmerman singled back-to-back, sending Dunn to the plate.
With the count full, Dunn deposited the first fastball of the at-bat over the wall in right-center field. The slump officially had concluded, and the Nationals were on their way to a second win in seven games.
The Nationals turned the game into a laugher with six runs in the bottom of the eighth that included a two-run homer by Bernadina and a two-RBI double by pinch-hitter Willie Harris. During that outburst, another unusual call surfaced when Nyjer Morgan was out at home because Ivan Rodriguez pushed him back to the plate. Morgan initially had missed the plate, but another player is not permitted to touch a base runner.
"For me umpiring is extremely tough," Riggleman said. "They do a great job. They're the best in the world. I got no problem with umpiring. The play at first base on the bunt, that bothers me because I just don't like the rule. They probably got it right, but it's a terrible rule. It's got to be changed. Everybody knows you can't run inside the line. It's impossible."
Meantime, days after the Nationals revealed rookie phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg will miss a year to 18 months after ligament replacement surgery, Hernandez continued to cement his standing as the club's iron man on the mound, making a Nationals record 94th start, including his 27th this season. In 15 big league seasons, Hernandez has never been on the disabled list.
Hernandez gave up three runs in the first but largely settled down from there before exiting with one out in the seventh and evening his record at 9-9. He gave up eight hits and five runs in 61/3 innings for a far more effective outing than his last, when he yielded seven earned runs on 10 hits in 41/3 innings in a 9-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Monday.
"Just fighting and fighting," Hernandez said of his start on Saturday. "You know, I got lucky and got a win."