The Nationals’ first two series of the season could hardly have been more different. At home, the Nationals celebrated what happened last year and overwhelmed the lowly Marlins for three games, allowing only one run in the process. In Cincinnati, they participated in a possible October preview and were staggered by the mighty Reds, getting outscored 27-10 in a series loss.
They left Cincinnati believing they had not played their best. Manager Davey Johnson said he felt like his team had not yet found a rhythm after the many days off between spring training and the end of the first week of the season. Everyone agreed they ran into an excellent team, one they could very well see again.
“They’re a good ballclub,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. “They really hit. They have a good pitching staff. Good bullpen. This is definitely a team that, if we go to the playoffs, this’ll probably be a team we run into.”
With new center fielder Shin-Soo Choo atop their lineup, the Reds’ offense scored at least six runs in all three games despite the Nationals’ ability to mostly contain Joey Votto. In three games, Votto went 4 for 13 with two walks, four strikeouts and just one extra-base hit. The Nationals by no means contained Votto, but the biggest damage came from elsewhere.
“They got a pretty good hitting ballclub,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “They don’t just have one guy. Up and down the lineup, they can hurt you. They’re kind of like us.”
The Reds also took advantage of the Nationals’ bullpen. After Washington relievers allowed no runs over eight innings against the Marlins, the Reds scored 13 runs in 9 2/3 innings against the Nationals’ bullpen, plus pushing across one inherited runner after Stephen Strasburg left.
The Nationals earned their only win in large because Craig Stammen out-pitched J.J. Hoover once both teams had used up their back-end relievers. But when the back-end relievers were in the game, the Reds held the advantage. Reds flamethrower Aroldis Chapman retired six of the seven batters he faced. He struck out five, including Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Denard Span.
“Venters,” Harper said when asked if he had ever faced a pitcher like Chapman, referring to Braves lefty Jonny Venters. “That’s the only guy I can look at. Of course Aroldis Chapman is unbelievable. But Venters is right up there also. Those are two guys that are pretty unhittable in some situations.”
Meantime, the one time the Reds faced the Nationals’ closer, they scored two runs off Rafael Soriano and pushed the middle game into extra innings. The Nationals eventually won, which salvaged the series.
The lone victory could not help the Nationals from falling out of first place behind the 5-1 Braves. That means nothing at this time of the season, except that the Nationals will not be able to say they went wire-to-wire and that they’re in second for the first time May 21 last year.
The Nationals, it should be noted, played two games without first baseman Adam LaRoche. Johnson expects him to return Tuesday against the White Sox
Mets at Nationals Park from back stiffness that held him out.
The Nationals’ weekend, in the end, reinforced two things we probably already knew. The Reds are a force to be reckoned with, and repeating as division champs will not be as easy as it seemed during their romp of the Marlins.
FROM THE POST
Davey Johnson stuck with Stephen Strasburg, and it didn’t work out in the Nationals’ 6-3 loss to the Reds.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Lehigh Valley 6: Zach Walters went 2 for 4 with a double and a homer run. He has started the season 5 for 17 with three homers and two doubles. Corey Brown went 2 for 5 with two home runs. Michael Crotta allowed no runs in two relief innings on no hits and one walk, striking out one. Ryan Perry allowed six runs in five innings on nine hits and two walks, striking out two.
Harrisburg 5, Bowie 4: Brian Goodwin went 1 for 3 with two walks. Anthony Rendon went 0 for 4 with a walk. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4. Ian Krol, the player named later in the Michael Morse trade, allowed no runs in two relief innings on one hit and one walk.
Lynchburg 11, Potomac 6: Jason Martinson went 2 for 3 with a home run and a walk. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 4 with a triple and a walk. A.J. Cole allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings on seven hits and a walk, striking out seven.
Delmarva 2, Hagerstown 1: Brandon Miller went 2 for 4 with a home run. Ronald Pena allowed one run in five innings on three hits and two walks, striking out two.