After the Washington Nationals’ 4-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night, their sixth victory in the past nine games, signs of their 2015 struggle filled the Nationals Park clubhouse, blaring as loudly as the post-win playlist they’ve heard less often than they expected this year.
In the hall, Yunel Escobar showed his bandaged, X-rayed right hand to bench coach Randy Knorr. A few feet away, Michael A. Taylor’s locker sat unoccupied by its owner, the dirty cleats that had carried him into the center field wall — then out of the game with a right knee contusion — on the floor. The chair at Denard Span’s locker faced outward, where clubhouse attendants leave it when a player has left for the night. The Nationals placed Span on the disabled list after the game. He may have left for good.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like it,” said Nationals Manager Matt Williams, the injury news putting a damper on another postgame news conference.
The victory, which clinched the Nationals’ third straight series win, gained them no ground in the National League East, the division they were supposed to have wrapped up by now — if healthy. Later Thursday, the Mets completed a sweep of the Phillies for their seventh straight victory, keeping their margin over Washington at 6 1/2 games.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman limped slightly as he headed to his locker to meet reporters, bothered by the plantar fasciitis that cost him two months and still bothers him daily.
“That’s kind of how this year has gone,” Zimmerman said. “But we’ve got to play through it. We’ve got to find a way to keep winning games and keep winning series.”
They found a way Thursday in part because of rookie Joe Ross, who was called up in June after injuries to Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg. Against the team that drafted him, then traded him to Washington in December, Ross threw six one-hit innings — the ninth time in 11 starts he’s allowed a three earned runs or fewer.
For the first time in his career, Ross did not allow an earned run. He struck out seven, walked two and now has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 65 to 11.
“He was sensational,” said Padres Manager Pat Murphy, who managed Ross in 2012 at short-season Eugene (Ore.). “Dominant.”
Ross could reasonably have had a no-hitter entering the sixth. The only blemish came when speedy second baseman Cory Spangenberg bunted and Wilson Ramos fired up the first-base line. Spangenberg was given a hit, Ramos a two-base error, because Spangenberg sped all the way to third and scored an unearned run on a sacrifice fly.
Williams did not announce Span was unavailable before the game Thursday night. As it turned out, the Nationals once again needed every bit of their depth to turn Ross’s outing into a win.
Trailing by one in the fifth, Jayson Werth — leading off because Span was out — walked. Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper singled to load the bases.
Then Yunel Escobar came to the plate, and drove in the tying run — by being hit by a pitch in the right hand. Though he took first base and played out the inning, he left before the top of the sixth. X-Rays were negative. He is day to day.
Zimmerman singled home Rendon to give the Nationals a lead, then he and Werth each hit solo home runs later to build cushion for the bullpen. Williams called on it for the seventh despite the fact Ross threw 77 pitches in six strong innings. Ross is on an innings limit. He will soon be unavailable for the rest of this season, too.
“Nobody said it would be easy,” Werth said.
Casey Janssen pitched a scoreless seventh despite a triple by Melvin Upton Jr. Taylor ran hard into the wall in pursuit of Upton’s deep drive, and left a gash in the dark green padding near the Geico sign.
The 24-year-old rookie — so durable through more major league duty than he or the Nationals could have expected him to serve this year — limped off the field, unable to put weight on his right leg.
“We’re in it right now. I think everybody in here believes we can do it. We haven’t lost hope to any degree,” Werth said. “We’re just going to have to figure a way to overcome these things.”
Werth moved from left to right when Taylor left, Harper to center and Danny Espinosa from second to left. A few pitches later, Rendon — at third because of the injury to Escobar – made a diving play up the line few others would, and in so doing stranded Upton at third. By game’s end, Ross had a win, Jonathan Papelbon had a save, and the Nationals had pinch-hit Fister at one point. Jose Lobaton was the only position player left on another injury-shortened bench.
Williams said the Nationals will bring in a player to replace Span on Friday, their finally intact lineup torn apart again. It lasted just two games.