ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Slow-working starters like Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Colome are not usually the kind of pitchers teams like to face on nights like Tuesday, when a night game will be followed by a late flight home, when a game the next day leaves no time to catch up on sleep after a grueling road trip. But as it turned out, he was exactly what the Nationals’ offense needed.
Undeterred by Colome’s lack of pace, aided by his lack of command, the Nationals compiled a six-run second inning that unleashed their streaky offense in a 16-4 win. The Nationals flew home from a three-city, eight-game road trip with four wins and four losses. The flight left a little later than they might have liked, but the Nats were lifted by their best offensive showing of the season. Washington finished with 23 hits, the most since the franchise relocated to the District.
Colome is a hard-throwing right hander who is also the slowest worker in the majors, averaging 26.6 seconds between pitches. He escaped the first despite allowing two hits, but the Nationals showed patience in the second and it paid off.
“Our team stayed in a rhythm with him pretty well,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who went 5 for 5.
Clint Robinson, who has hit well since finding regular playing time amid injuries to Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, led off the inning with a home run hit so high it never landed, caught in a Tropicana Field catwalk as thunder boomed outside. Major League Baseball’s distance tracker projected it would have traveled 449 feet.
“That was a bomb,” Bryce Harper said. “Being able to put something up there, a little Natural-esque with the thunder and lightning on the outside. That was truly incredible.”
Then Espinosa chopped an infield single. Michael A. Taylor beat out a bunt. After Ian Desmond struck out, Colome lost the zone, and the Nationals were in no hurry to help him rediscover it. Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Harper all walked around a Yunel Escobar single. By the time Wilson Ramos hit a sacrifice fly and Robinson doubled, his second extra-base hit of the inning, the Nationals led 6-0. Coming into Tuesday, the Nationals had scored six runs in a game twice in June.
With that rally they knocked Colome from the game after six runs in two innings and gave right-hander Tanner Roark — a quick worker much more suited to nights like this — a chance to be aggressive. Though he normally has better command than he did early, he could pitch to contact with the big lead and scattered six hits through seven innings of one-run work.
“It’s a lot of fun to see these guys come out and hit the ball all over the place and score runs,” Roark said. “It’s uplifting for everybody in the clubhouse.”
Harper hit a 1-1 slider into the left-center field stands in the top of the fifth. His 22nd home run traveled 443 feet, the second-longest Nationals homer of the evening.
Later that inning came confirmation that Tuesday belonged to the Nationals’ offense. Desmond, mired in a 1-for-28 slump, was late on a pitch from Rays left-hander Enny Romero. He hit it straight down into the plate. It bounced so far off the dish that it sailed deep over first base. He had been 0 for his last 18 before that at-bat. He added a check-swing infield single later.
“That gets you going,” Espinosa said. “Sometimes just a bleeder, sometimes a check swing, whatever. That gets you hot and gets you back in the rhythm you wanna be in. I was happy to see it. Everybody was happy to see it. We need him.”
The Nats added four runs in the fifth inning and never stopped hitting. Espinosa and Robinson had career highs in hits. Harper added three. Span and Rendon and Taylor had two.
By the seventh inning, every Nationals starter had a hit except Ramos. He homered against Rays infielder Jake Elmore, who came in to pitch, to give the Nationals their 14th run. Ramos homered again in the top of the ninth, against another infielder, Nick Franklin. Then, every Nationals starter except Yunel Escobar had at least two hits.
“That [game] helped the team because we got more confident,” Ramos said. “We got more confident, we gave good support to the pitcher today. That’s the team. Everybody know we got really good hitters on this team. If we stay with that approach like today, we have a good opportunity to help more the rotation.”
During their topsy-turvy June, the Nationals have scored runs in bunches on occasion. None of those outbursts sparked consistency.
Then again, none of those outbursts were quite like Tuesday night’s, because the Nationals have not hit like that all season.