CINCINNATI — Most teams don’t enjoy the luxury of granting a day off to an all-star first baseman who stands in the top 10 in baseball in batting average and slugging percentage without feeling the effects, especially with three other everyday players on the disabled list.
But most teams don’t possess the firepower the Washington Nationals unleash on an everyday basis. Most teams don’t employ three other potential MVP candidates in the middle of the order, and most teams don’t have a backup capable of stepping right in and mashing.
So Ryan Zimmerman’s absence from the lineup Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park went unnoticed during Washington’s 14-4 thrashing of the Cincinnati Reds. Without him and four other regulars in the lineup, the Nationals (55-36) chased Reds starter Homer Bailey after four-plus innings, stockpiled 17 hits and cracked five home runs to secure their third straight win out of the all-star break.
“If you’re on my team, everybody plays,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “We expect them to do the job, which they are, and we had a big offensive production today.”
Daniel Murphy smacked two of the homers, following Bryce Harper’s two-homer performance Friday and Anthony Rendon’s two blasts Saturday. It was the third time in franchise history that the Nationals have had three individual multi-home run performances over three straight games — and the first time with three different players.
Adam Lind, starting in place of Zimmerman, also participated in the home run flurry, welcoming reliever Ariel Hernandez in the fifth inning with a two-run shot shortly after Murphy belted a three-run homer. Rendon added his third in two days in the seventh inning, tucking a blast just inside the left field foul pole against former National Drew Storen. Three batters later, Jose Lobaton, starting for catcher Matt Wieters, who was given the standard day-game-after-night-game breather, crushed a two-run home run to center field. The three-run inning gave Washington its 17th double-digit run game of the season, two more than any other team in baseball.
“It’s just a testament to our offense grinding out at-bats,” Murphy said.
Tanner Roark rode the support for six innings, allowing three unearned runs on four hits, righting the ship after entering with an 8.78 ERA over his previous six outings. The right-hander overcame a rocky first inning to retire the side in order in the second. Then a strange episode cost him two runs in the third. Bailey led off and struck out on three pitches, and the third pitch was a curveball down out of the strike zone that Lobaton appeared to catch before it hit the ground. Home plate umpire Tim Timmons ruled it as such, so Lobaton threw the ball to third base to initiate the around-the-horn routine.
But Bailey dashed for first base thinking the ball hit the ground, which would have required Lobaton to throw to first base to retire him. And first base umpire James Hoye agreed with Bailey, overturning the home plate umpire’s call. As a result, Bailey reached safely, technically on an error by Lobaton, which was charged to him five innings later following mass confusion on how to score it. Baker emerged to discuss the ruling with Timmons, but the play wasn’t reviewable, per rules. So he walked away perplexed without a change.
“Strange play, but it worked out for them,” Roark said. “Whatever.”
The mix-up immediately plagued Roark. Billy Hamilton followed with a single. Jesse Winker then walked. Two batters later, Wilmer Difo booted a potential inning-ending double play groundball off Adam Duvall’s bat as Bailey scored. Hamilton then scored the Reds’ second run on Scooter Gennett’s groundout before Roark escaped.
The Reds (39-52) added another unearned run in the fifth inning — following a rare error by Rendon at third base — but that was all against Roark. The right-hander ended his day with a nifty play, charging a swinging bunt from pinch hitter Arismendy Alcantara and throwing him out after tossing his 101st pitch. Roark, whose previous outing was five innings of relief, hadn’t allowed three or fewer runs over at least six innings since May 29.
“I just told him to start his season all over,” Baker said. “He’s 1-0 in the second half, and hopefully he can build off that.”
This time, a day after a debacle nearly eradicated a 10-run lead, anxiety was evaded in the late innings. With Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson on their way from Oakland to bolster the beleaguered relief corps, Enny Romero, Joe Blanton and Trevor Gott combined to allow one run and preserve another gigantic lead, one created with perhaps the most powerful depleted lineup in baseball.