The following story was reported during The Student Journalist Program’s five-day Summer Newsroom Workshop in August, 2016.
Accounting for Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, the Nationals have hit 149 home runs, best for fifth in the majors and tied for second in the National League. Although the figure is impressive, it’s not ideal for Dusty Baker’s squad.
As August turns into September, and September into October, the weather at Nationals Park cools, making it more difficult for players to muscle a ball out of the park. The Nationals may very well be playoff bound—and hope to play deep into October—but their reliance on the home run could come back to bite them.
However, in their 7-4 win against the Indians, the Nationals showed that they are capable of scoring using means other than the home run -- and what a good game not relying on the home run looks like.
“We’ve been depending on the home run quite a bit, and we like to have some offensive balance, keep the line moving,” said manager Dusty Baker. “First and third, that’s contagious. Whoever’s behind is like, “Hey I wanna join this hit parade too.” “
The Nationals got off to a quick start without the home run, first on a two-out Wilson Ramos single in the bottom of the first that plated Jayson Werth, who reached on a double loss in the sun by Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte. Werth’s double extended his on-base streak to 40, three games away from the all-time Nationals record.
“It’s more of a product of my approach and having good at-bats,” Werth said after the win. “I’m not putting a whole lot into it. It is what it is, whether it’s a streak or it’s not a streak, I feel like myself up there.”
Almonte answered quickly for the Indians, doubling in a run in the top of the second off of Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez to tie the game.
The home run wasn’t completely out of the Nationals’ game plan, though. In the second inning, Werth launched Cleveland starting pitcher Josh Tomlin’s 2-1 pitch into the left field bullpen, good for three runs to put the Nationals up 4-1.
Cleveland answered back again in the third as Francisco Lindor hit a two-run home run, and Jose Ramirez doubled in another run to tie the game at 4-4.
Daniel Murphy doubled in Trea Turner on another fly ball that Almonte lost in the sun, as Werth advanced to third. Murphy’s double proved to be the knockout blow for Tomlin. The righty was only able to go four innings, allowing eight hits and seven earned runs.
Anthony Rendon plated both Turner and Werth with a double down the left field line on a 2-1 pitch from Tomlin’s replacement, Dan Otero.
“It started with Willie’s base hit, which is always a good thing, and we had some guys who had some good days,” Baker said. “Jayson Werth looks like he’s heating up, which is a good thing, and Rendon’s heating up and driving in runs.”
Gio Gonzalez’s streak of giving up three runs or less per start that lasted for more than a month ended on Wednesday, and the lefty struggled at times in his fifth inning outing against Cleveland.
“There were a couple pitches that were questionable a little bit [..] then he threw Lindor the fastball,” Baker said. “He had real good stuff, and the fact that he got out of the first inning, that’s usually his nemesis, that showed me the type of stuff he had today.”
Gonzalez, after a quiet fourth and fifth inning, exited the game in the sixth with runners on first and second. Matt Belisle, his replacement, eventually induced a double play to get out of the inning, keeping the score at 7-4.
Blake Treinen came in for two-thirds of an inning in the seventh before being replaced by Oliver Perez. Perez only faced one batter before being removed due to what Dusty Baker diagnosed as back spasms.
Shawn Kelley came in and finished the seventh, and then pitched a scoreless eighth.
Bryce Harper missed his third straight game due to neck stiffness, and Brian Goodwin, who started in Harper’s place, recorded the Nationals’ tenth hit of the day in the eighth, a single through the hole on the right side of the infield, Goodwin’s first career Major League hit.
“Brian has a lot of talent, and he’s really gotten it together,” said Baker. “He’s confident, he can play all three outfield positions, and everyone was so happy for him tonight to get his first hit.”
“I think finally seeing one go through was kind of a relief,” Goodwin said at his locker after the game.
Mark Melancon entered in the top of the ninth for his second save opportunity, and induced a pop-up, and then struck out the next batter. Carlos Santana, Cleveland’s final hope, hit a sharp grounder to Daniel Murphy who stepped on the bag to end the game, finishing off Melancon’s second save as a National.