Last week, as the Nationals offense was again impotent, Manager Davey Johnson explained that the fuzz of hair growing on his chin wouldn’t come off until the lineup came to life. Against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals put 45 men on base and scored only 14 runs, already improvements, but that wasn’t enough. He was holding out. Another day, he kept saying. He hoped it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
On Tuesday, the Nationals offense broke out in its biggest way in nearly a month and a half. They crossed the plate nine times, the most since April 15 against the Miami Marlins. They collected 13 hits, the most since April 15, too. They drilled four home runs, the most in 11 days, and just shy of the season-high of five. Even scuffling bench players Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina, hitting a combined .273 entering the game, each added homers of their own.
“I just about fell out of bed,” Johnson said after the game. “Some guys usually take two or three strikes and they went up there and hit line drives. Maybe this is working. We were just all over a 97 mile per hour fastball. That made my whole night.”
All of this sounded like enough for Johnson to shave the beard that some players jokingly told him looked good on him.
“Can’t shave right now,” Johnson said. Pressed further on what it would take to do so, he was vague: “Not much. It won’t take much.”
Maybe another night of offense, a sign of the consistency that has eluded the lineup all season, could be what Johnson is holding out for. On Tuesday, beyond the continued surge of Adam LaRoche, there were signs the Nationals offense was coming to life in a meaningful way.
Bernadina, who entered the game hitting .121, had his first multi-hit game of the season and hit his first home run. Moore, who entered hitting .152, gave further proof that the everyday playing time he has recently received has helped and drove in two runs, his most in nearly three weeks.
“He’s putting better at-bats together,” Johnson said. “Bernie today hit a home run of a right-hander and got a base hit off a left-hander. That was big. But those guys are very capable and seeing them come around takes the pressure of a lot of guys. In the lineup, a fourth of it has been dormant. That was huge.”
Even before Bryce Harper aggravated his knee injury and was forced for rest for a few days, Johnson had decided he needed to play struggling players more, Moore in particular. The first baseman-outfielder, who the Nationals consider a part of their future, was going to play every day as Jayson Werth recovered from a hamstring strain.
Johnson recently admitted that platooning left field while Werth was out was counterproductive. He said he should have been playing struggling players every day so they could get regular opportunities to snap out of their season-long funks. Having a .152 hitter sitting on the bench wouldn’t help the player. On Tuesday, the benefits of the steady stream of work showed.
“It kinda starts up our year,” Moore said. “Because earlier we just didn’t really get consistent stuff and now me and [Bernadina] are getting a couple at-bats with Harp’s knee and [Werth] being out. It’s good. It just gives you confidence and that’s what this game is all about.”
Added Bernadina: “I definitely feel more locked in. Now I’ve been having plenty A-Bs and I definitely feel like I’m locked in.”
Bernadina has started the past two days as Harper rested and went 3 for 7. Moore has started since Friday and gone 5 for 17 with a homer and four RBI, notching a hit in each game. His fourth inning home run off Kyle Gausman came on a slider, a pitch that seemed to conquer him during his slump. One Nationals official has noted that Moore when struggled he looked jumpy at the plate and even moved his head when he swung. And once he slipped into a slump, the problems can snowball. Tuesday was further improvement.
“Early in the year I was trying to do way too much, just wanted to stay small and keep this thing going,” he said.
But even that, however, wasn’t enough to prompt Johnson to shave the beard he once joked was, in part, because of Moore’s struggles. Asked for his opinion of Johnson’s beard, Moore laughed: “It looks pretty bad.” The upcoming offensive performances could be determine the fate of the manager’s beard.
FROM THE POST
Jordan Zimmermann is a star, whether he likes it or not, Adam Kilgore and myself write.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Gwinnett 5, Syracuse 4: Starter Michael Torra allowed four runs over seven innings and Michael Broadway allowed one in two innings of relief. Chris Marrero went 1 for 2 with two RBI and is hitting .303 on the season. Micah Owings went 1 for 2 with an RBI.
Harrisburg 9, Akron 1: Taylor Jordan, who the Nationals are high on, allowed one run on eight hits over seven innings. He struck out five batters and walked one. Rick Hague hit a three-run home run. Jimmy Van Ostrand went 3 for 4 and Sandy Leon drove in two.
Salem 5, Potomac 4: A.J. Cole tossed six innings of seven-hit, two-run ball. He struck out four and walked none. Adrian Sanchez went 1 for 3 and drove in two runs.
Asheville 9, Hagerstown 4: Ivan Pineyro allowed four runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings. He struck out six and walked two. His ERA is 3.35. Tony Renda went 2 for 4 with a double and a triple. Brandon Miller collected two hits.